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Sen. Roy Blunt speaks Friday on the importance of broadband access in rural areas at United Fiber in Savannah, Missouri.

SAVANNAH, Mo. — Sen. Roy Blunt visited United Fiber in Savannah, Missouri, on Friday afternoon to discuss broadband access in rural parts of the state.

United Fiber, a subsidiary of United Electric Cooperative, has been working to expand access to high-speed fiber internet service to rural areas. Similar efforts across the state received support when the Federal Communication Commission allocated $254,773,118 to expand broadband access in 2018.

“We’re moving forward rapidly,” Blunt said. “Two years ago, 51 to 54% of rural Missourians didn’t have access to broadband. Now that number is down to about a third.”

One challenge in getting more funding has been the mapping of areas with broadband access. If one person in a census block is reported to have broadband access, the FCC counts the entire block as served, which hinders the flow of funding, according to United Fiber CEO Jim Bagley.

“The senator has been working with the FCC and others to try to get the mapping systems in a more accurate manner, so some person in one area who has nothing isn’t counted by the FCC as full served,” Bagley said.

Blunt hopes better broadband access will stop young families from leaving areas by offering better work-from-home opportunities, online education and tele-health services.

“There are communities between 500 and 5,000, where people want to live, where community activities are still the focal point,” Blunt said. “Whether those communities are well served by broadband will probably determine whether the kinds of families that can bring economic vitality are able to live there.”

Bagley thinks farming is another area that could benefit from better broadband access.

“Farming is a lot more complicated than it used to be,” he said. “A lot of the farm equipment now is automated. The more we have connections to those devices, the more we can be efficient with planning all the components that make agriculture successful.”

To check if your area has access to broadband, visit unitedfiber.com.

Jessica Kopp can be reached

at jessica.kopp@newspressnow.com.

Follow her on Twitter: @NPNOWKopp