Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker says he will be making inquiries to ensure nearly $11 million earmarked for rural broadband expansion is “built out instead of bought out.”
In December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released the results of a $254 million auction which is part of a federal effort known as Connect America Fund II (CAF II).
According to the auction results, $10,793,922 will be focused on Franklin County broadband, affecting 6,650 homes.
“I’m not sure whose responsibility it is to make sure how the money is being spent,” Brinker said. “It may have to become ours, since nobody else is (taking responsibility for it).”
Brinker said he wants to make sure the federal money is being used for building and installing new broadband infrastructure.
“It’s a special thing that Franklin County is getting this money,” Brinker said. “I’d like to see internet expanded to every inch of this county. I just want to make sure it’s done right.”
While in Washington, D.C., last week, Brinker spoke with Missouri U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley about the rural broadband expansion.
Statewide, 84 percent of residents have access to internet capable of 25 megabits per second. An average of 22 percent of Missourians are underserved.
In Franklin County, 78.6 percent of residents have internet service capable of at least 25 megabytes per second.
“As of now, 21 percent of Franklin County is underserved when it comes to internet service,” Brinker said. “As far as I’m concerned, internet expansion is as important of an infrastructure as roads and bridges.”
In recent weeks, Brinker said he has received calls from residents in two subdivisions near Union regarding the lack of internet access to those new homes.
He stopped short of saying the lack of available broadband has made a negative impact on economic development in the county.
During the auction late last year, 11 broadband internet providers won support from CAF II, including Wisper ISP, which recently purchased local internet provider YHTI, Washington.
The company provides internet service to more than 11,500 business and residential customers located in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Wisper ISP was the top internet service in the state to receive federal broadband disbursements and Franklin County will be receiving one of the biggest infusions of federal money.
Although Brinker is pleased about the overall broadband expansion, the much higher numbers in Franklin County have him concerned.
“I wonder how much of that 10-plus million will actually be going toward expansion of new services,” he said. “Or, how much will be going toward the purchase of YHTI?”
Brinker said he plans to ask these same questions directly to Wisper ISP executives to further hash out if the mere acquisition of YHTI constitutes the 6,650 homes they already serve, or if an additional 6,650 homes can expect new broadband services they don’t already get.
An FCC news release said that in Missouri, 95,130 rural homes and small businesses stand to “gain access to high-speed internet service for the first time” over the coming decade.
In all, more than $254,773,118 was spent by Missouri companies in the auction.