Opinion: Rural broadband a critical growth instrument for Ozarks

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As the sun rises, the colors of fall slowly become illuminated, as if nature is a Polaroid coming into focus.

This was a recent experience of mine during a getaway to a rural town, and as a fellow resident of the Ozarks, I’m certain you’ve had similar experiences. Unfortunately, my mood was dampened when I returned inside and attempted to do a bit of work online. What should have been a five-minute exercise turned into 10 minutes, leaving me feeling lucky that was the only task I had to handle that day.

While the nature views were spectacular, I was happy to get back home to my swift internet speeds in Springfield.

It left me thinking about the duality that exists in many areas of the Ozarks. In some cases, the better the view – away from the hustle and bustle of city life – the worse the internet service. It can force a choice when picking a place of residence in the Ozarks: be closer to metropolitan areas or have slower internet in the woods.

What if that dynamic didn’t exist and one could have quick internet anywhere?

Fortunately, that’s the goal of some important initiatives that are underway, and the Ozarks stands to benefit. Natural beauty is one of our area’s most marketable qualities for business and employee recruitment and retention, so improving broadband speeds can only stand to benefit our community.

In October, Nixa-based Total Highspeed received nearly $50 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to install a fiber-to-the-premises network that would connect 417 businesses, five public schools, 720 farms and more than 26,000 people to high-speed broadband internet in Christian, Greene, Lawrence, Stone and Webster counties. Total Highspeed’s bread and butter is rural internet, so it’s encouraging for broadband enthusiasts to see this contract go to them.

And earlier this month, Greene County Presiding Commissioner Bob Dixon was appointed to a national broadband task force by the National Association of Counties. The goal is to study the lack of reliable broadband in rural areas and to find solutions for internet service gaps. It’s an important initiative, given that a NACo report from earlier this year found 65% of U.S. counties have internet speeds that are slower than the minimum standards set by the Federal Communications Commission. In rural counties, that percentage grows to 77%.

“Rural Greene County must be able to compete on a level playing field with our major metro areas,” Dixon says in a news release.

He’s spot on in his assessment, and I hope you’ll join me in wishing him well in this effort.

You’d be hard pressed to find a business today that doesn’t rely on the internet for all or part of its operations. It’s engrained into society, and it’s an invaluable tool.

It’s also worthy of investments from such organizations as the USDA. Bridging the gap in the rural areas of the Ozarks is essential.

As we look to the future for our area, technological needs must be a key focus. We’re on a positive trajectory, so let’s keep the momentum going.

Springfield Business Journal Web Editor Geoff Pickle can be reached at gpickle@sbj.net.