To fully appreciate what it means to wire rural America for high-speed Internet, consider these nuggets:
• United Electric Cooperative of Savannah is installing 1,230 miles of fiber in its service region — an expansive six counties of Northwest Missouri stretching from Dearborn, south of St. Joseph, to near the Iowa border.
• The cooperative will pay for this “fiber-to-home” service with the help of $21 million in grants and loans — a sizable amount, but just a fraction of the $310 million total investment Missouri will see for this purpose. That money includes more than $190 million in competitive federal funding awarded to the state and its partners.
• In a dramatic leap forward, nearly 5,500 households in Andrew, Buchanan, Clinton, DeKalb, Gentry and Nodaway counties will gain access to coveted Internet download speeds of up to 100 megabits per second.
• Along with area businesses, some 150 “anchor institutions” — schools, health care facilities, public safety agencies, correctional facilities and libraries — also will benefit by receiving high-speed connections to the outside world.
• At completion, nearly 95 percent of the homes in the cooperative’s service area will have high-speed access, compared to less than 38 percent before.
Gene Dorrel, chief executive officer of United Electric, calls the project a “game changer,” particularly for reversing population and employment trends in rural areas. Gov. Jay Nixon sees it as “a necessity” — an assessment he rightly has championed since taking office.
Both understand we’re fortunate to be at this point. And they know, too, the project has benefited from an infusion of funds from the federal economic recovery act born of the recession.
So be it. We have followed this initiative closely. Its importance is without question in the Midland Empire, where our future almost certainly hinges on providing rural communities with a fair chance to compete with their big-city brothers and sisters.