State reps, city officials discuss broadband service

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Broadband internet is the way of the future. However, Perry County and the surrounding areas have some of the worst access to Broadband in the state.
State Representatives met with business owners as well as county commissioners of Perry County and internet service providers to improve the situation for the underserved portions of the county July 28 during a meeting at the Catalyst Center.
State representatives Rick Francis and Dale Wright, as well as Louis Riggs, who is part of the Budget Committee and the Economic Development Committee came to see just how the southeast portion of the state was dealing with limited broadband internet service in the county. They fielded questions from those in attendance.
“It’s important that we get as much information as we can from the people, so that we know where to spend our money to get broadband out where we need it,” Riggs said. “Every corner of the state is different and has different problems.”
City Administrator Brent Buerck noted that the internet speeds within the city limits are good, but once a person leaves those city limits and gets out even just a few miles, those speeds and accessibility drop considerably. That needs to change for the future of Perry County and Perryville.
“COVID-19 brought alot of things to light when it comes to the children of this county,” Buerck said. “We worked with the school district to put buses in the county with WiFi. However, that is like a band-aid on a broken leg. It’s not a solution. Internet service is as important today as water and electric in the county. We need help. ”
For places like Perry and Bollinger County, they are on the lower end of internet access, especially once they leave the city limits.
“I was at a Farm Bureau meeting about one year ago. I was shocked to learn that Perry County was the third worst county when it come to internet service,” Francis said. “There are some areas that are totally unserviceable and inaccessible.”
Much like Perry County representatives from the Bollinger County Chamber of Commerce attended the meeting and noted that the county is high on the poverty scale and low on the internet accessibility scale. About 75 percent of the residents who live in Bollinger County leave the county for work. The main source for that is because businesses can’t move into the county due to lack of internet service.
Not only does internet affect the residents of Perry County, but also its businesses, according to Frank Robinson, the president of Robinson Construction.
“We bring so many people into Perry County to work that we have got to have the internet service here to make sure these people have good salaries to take home,” Robinson said. “The workforce here has so much potential that we need to keep them here so that we continue to grow as a community.”
Riggs noted that there is a $250 million fund in Missouri that is in the works to be distributed, but even if that money is given to this area, there are many delays.
“I’ve talked to some providers and they have material delays of 18 months and another 40 to 60 month construction delays,” We’ve seen that the reports are good, but the question is when we get the money, what do we do with it?” Riggs said.
Big River Communication President Kevin Cantwell echoed that the process takes time.
“We have a big fiber project that we hope to service 250.000 homes, but we are about three to five years out on that,” he said. “However, you want it now. We want to give you the fastest speeds that we can.”
Many of the people in attendance weren’t too worried about the speed as opposed to the availability in the county.
“Not everyone needs a Ferrari, they just need something to get their work done,” said Pat Naeger, “People that have it don’t need 300 megabytes of speed down and up. I don’t understand why a person needs that much. If you bring light to a cave, some light is better than nothing.”

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