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Serving: MO
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STAY CLOSE: The coronavirus kept many families apart for a time. Many turned to technology to visit with loved ones. Still, some in rural America were not as fortunate as broadband is not available.

COVID-19 sheds light on broadband gap in rural areas

Ag Matters: Investments in high-speed internet will help us stay connected during any future pandemic.

The COVID-19 outbreak changed the daily lives of all Missourians. There are fewer trips to the grocery store, more conference calls and video chats, longer and more demanding shifts for health care workers, and teachers working through virtual classrooms and parents home-schooling their kids.

The pandemic has further emphasized the importance of strong connectivity for our families, business and communities, especially in rural Missouri. The demand on our digital infrastructure is unprece­dented right now. We need every last mile connected to high-speed internet — all the way to the farm gate — for our rural students, workforce and entrepreneurs.

Need to stay connected

Lack of broadband access in rural Missouri is a challenge facing our small towns that affects agriculture, economic development, health care and education. These effects are only magnified during a global pandemic such as COVID-19.

The Federal Communications Commission estimates that 1.2 million Missourians, 20% of the state’s population, do not have access to high-speed internet. We know it can be limiting to not have access to high-speed internet. However, those limits now also include connectivity to our family, our children’s teachers and even our jobs.

We often take these small things for granted. Without them, these challenging times can be extremely isolating for those who call rural Missouri home. Connecting every last mile of Missouri to high-speed internet continues to be a passion of mine.

Many aspects of agriculture today in­volve technology, which requires broad­band access. Things such as livestock veterinary records, mixing feed, preci­sion agriculture technology and farm ma­chinery all require high-speed access in order to function at the level required on the farm.

During this emergency, our farmers and ranchers are still farming, working hard day in and day out to ensure a safe and nutritious food supply is available for families in Missouri and across the nation.

Invest in communication

I am proud of the work that has been done so far this year to help bring broadband access to more of our citizens. The state continues to work toward the goal of achieving 90% coverage by 2025, focusing on areas without connectivity first.

In April, Gov. Mike Parson announced that 16 broadband development projects received a total of $3.05 million through the state’s broadband grant program.Those projects will bring service to more than 4,400 homes, businesses and farms that lack access to high-speed internet.

Funding these projects wouldn’t be possible without our partnership with the Missouri Department of Economic Development. Their team also has stepped up during the COVID-19 pandemic and created a resource center that includes broadband discounts, waivers and free resources that are currently available to Missourians.

Rural broadband has the potential to make positive changes in our lives in the areas of agriculture, business, education and health care. But more importantly, broadband connectivity is becoming a ne­cessity to get Missourians through trying times like the COVID-19 pandemic.

Access to high-speed internet allows people to keep businesses open from home, rural hospitals to continue treating patients, and farmers and ranchers to continue putting food on our tables. Broadband access now touches our lives in more ways than many realize. And without it, we may see seemingly unsur­mountable challenges in an already chal­lenging time.

At the Missouri Department of Agriculture, we are excited about the ad­vancements Missouri has made in the past three years to connect our homes, farms and businesses to high-speed internet. But there is still much work to be done, and our team is ready to keep going until we’ve brought broadband access to every last mile of Missouri. MATTERS

Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence, Mo.

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