Now, most everyday work, as well as 21st century technologies, require access to reliable high-speed internet and a population trained to use them effectively. Yet, almost 20% of Missourians – more than 1.2 million citizens – do not currently have access to high-speed internet.
Almost a century ago, the faculty and researchers at land-grant universities helped expand access to and opportunities around reliable, affordable electrical service. Then – as now – it’s our responsibility and privilege to partner with people and communities across Missouri to ensure access to today’s essential “utility” — broadband.
The University of Missouri System Broadband Initiative is a coordinated effort to encourage the statewide build-out of reliable high-speed internet (broadband) infrastructure and use of broadband-based applications to improve the lives of Missourians around the state’s three grand challenges related to:
The Broadband Initiative guide identifies roles for UM System faculty and staff, including MU Extension, in helping local communities (i.e., neighborhoods, towns, cities, counties, etc.) as they explore solutions to broadband challenges.
Considerations include community engagement around the topic of broadband, technology assessment, financing and legal structures and promoting adoption. Your role will depend on the need of the community and your area of expertise.
What to do: Be familiar with the UM System Broadband Initiative and share related information and resources with community stakeholders working on broadband issues. Learn more at UM System Broadband Initiative.
How to share resources: Identify community groups working on broadband issues and respond to their needs (access, affordability, utilization, etc.) by sharing UM System Broadband Initiative resources. Be aware of what is available on the Missouri Broadband Resource Rail website that can be easily shared and pointed to for reference. Learn more at Missouri Broadband Resource Rail.
Example: A coalition on internet affordability and adoption has formed in your community to address inequity. Contact the coalition leader and share UM System Broadband Initiative resources.
What to do: Connect community partners with UM System faculty and staff who can help solve local broadband challenges.
How to connect: Understand the broadband needs/challenges in the community and then contact Sam Tennant, UM System Broadband Initiative manager. Sam can help you identify UM System faculty and staff to help find information and solutions.
Example: Only 60% of a community’s population has access to internet in the home, negatively impacting online learning for children and entrepreneurial opportunities. They need help understanding funding and finance options as they explore increasing broadband availability. The UM System has faculty and staff with expertise in broadband-related finance, business and legal matters.
What to do: Become an active participant in a community group working to solve broad challenges.
How to collaborate: Become knowledgeable about broadband and related challenges in the community. Attend community group meetings, sharing UM System Broadband Initiative resources and expertise and advising the community. Contact Sam Tennant, UM System Broadband Initiative manager, for support and guidance.
Example: A rural health care entity is exploring enhanced telehealth services to increase access to care and reduce patient travel time and cost. The group would benefit from having a faculty or staff member from any of the four UM System universities or MU Extension serving as a member to actively connect UM System assets with community needs.
What to do: With input from community members, identify broadband needs and challenges and form a working group. Community change takes people power. Try to make your working group diverse and representative of your community. Involve youth, professionals and retired persons. Set a monthly meeting time and location to hold yourselves accountable. Grow this group as more people become interested.
How to lead:
Begin with an assessment. You can use the assessment tools on the All Things Missouri platform to identify issues in your community. You can decide to focus on issues within a specific category, like internet access for K-12 learning, or look more broadly across issues. You can use the Broadband Planning Guide on the Missouri Broadband Resource Rail to get a better understanding of your specific county/counties.
Take an inventory. Talk to people in your community about what’s working well and what needs improvement. Take an inventory of organizations, clubs and anchor institutions like schools and churches. Schedule a time to meet with each of these groups and hear their concerns and ideas.
Prioritize and focus based on what you learn. Select one to three issues that were identified through the assessment process and your conversations with the community. Start with your end goal in mind and build a path of strategies that will get you there. Make sure your goals are SMART — specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. Goal examples:
Education: Ensure that all public schools in a school district have access to internet speeds of at least 25 Mbps by 2022.
Health: Increase the number of local mental health providers who also provide telehealth services by 50% in two years.
Economy: Provide free public WIFI in the downtown area by July 2021.
Identify resources, experts and contacts. Share UM System Broadband Initiative resources and expertise. Contact Sam Tennant, UM System Broadband Initiative manager, for support and guidance.