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The U.S. Department of Commerce is investing $613,750 in coronavirus relief funds to Missouri to bolster its broadband infrastructure, the latest effort to bridge the digital divide.

The grant will be distributed to the Missouri Association of Councils of Government (MACOG), a statewide group, to develop expansion plans and provide technical assistance. The federal funds will be bolstered by a matching state investment.

“Our administration has long been committed to expanding quality broadband internet access to every citizen in every corner of the state, and we appreciate our EDA partners helping with this mission,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “We recently announced our intention to invest more than $400 million toward broadband connectivity across the state, and the funds this grant provides will help MACOG inform our historic broadband expansion effort and ensure planned expenditures are efficient and effective.”

Parson announced the state’s investment last month, touting it as the largest in Missouri’s history. Missouri is also expected to receive a minimum of $100 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act earmarked for broadband expansion, an allotment the White House said would drastically reduce the percentage of Missourians without coverage.

U.S. Senator Roy Blunt, who voted in favor of the bill, has long been a proponent of the state’s expansion efforts.

“While our state has made meaningful progress toward ending the digital divide, nearly one-third of rural Missourians still don’t have access to broadband,” Blunt said. “This investment will help local officials develop plans that will pave the way for bringing broadband service to unserved areas across Missouri. I’ll continue working with state and local partners to ensure the federal government is doing its part to bring high-speed internet to every home, business, and farm in our state.”

Missouri has received several federal grants designated to broadband over the past year as the pandemic made the disparity even more prominent.

The issue also has the attention of the Missouri Legislature: The House Interim Committee on Broadband Development is receiving testimony from stakeholders and compiling a report to present to lawmakers at the end of the year.

Missouri ranks No. 32 in broadband access compared to the rest of the country with around 147,000 unserved or underserved households and more than 392,000 individuals without reliable internet access, according to Missouri Office of Broadband Development Director Tim Arbeiter.

Cameron Gerber studied journalism at Lincoln University. Prior to Lincoln, he earned an associate’s degree from State Fair Community College. Cameron is a native of Eldon, Missouri.

Contact Cameron at cameron@themissouritimes.com.

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