Missouri legislators work to improve rural internet service

Updated: Jun. 1, 2021 at 9:46 PM CDT
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DORA, Mo. (KY3) - Jeff Macler has traveled all over the world. He’s an inventor and systems analyst who works with clients in China, Mexico, Canada, and South Africa on a daily basis. The company that employs him is based in St. Louis, Mo.

“I’ve lived in large cities and I’ve traveled extensively, and being able to come home and see your own property, and your own ground and being able to cultivate that is something that’s very special to us,” said Macler.

Jobs for guys like Macler are hard to come by in the rural Ozarks. He moved here to be with family, got married, and decided to stick around. Thanks to the internet he can live on a farm and have big city jobs.

“Being able to be in Dora, Missouri, and be able to videoconference around the world and have it almost like you’re there in the room allows me greater flexibility than I ever would have dreamed,” he said.

About four months ago, Macler subscribed to a service that’s new to the area. It’s known as a Wireless Internet Service Provider, or WISP, and relies on signals that are bounced off towers. In the Dora area, a company called Current Electric installs the towers and provides internet service. Users must have a direct line of sight to a tower in order to access the service.

Macler said overall, he’s very happy with the service. But this morning, he lost internet service.

“I’m back to text messages, poor cell phone coverage because of the weather, and it’s literally like I’m back in the Stone Age,” said Macler.

Macler lives on a hilltop, which gives him access to a WISP tower. He’s one of few in his area who have connected to WISP.

Ina Warren lives just a few miles down the road. Her internet connection is through Centurylink and she said it’s pretty slow.

“On YouTube, it just sits there and whirls, and whirls, and whirls,” she said as she made big circles in the air with her finger.

Travis Smith, a Missouri State Representative for Douglas, Ozark, and eastern Taney counties, serves as vice-chair for a committee that’s trying to bring high-speed internet to rural areas like Dora.

“Internet service used to be one of those things that’s just fun to have,” said Rep. Smith. “Now, it’s a basic utility that everyone has to have.”

Smith explains, “If you look at one of the maps from the Department of Economic Development, it will show that Douglas County has great access. But that’s because the population is in one small area. Ninety-five percent of the geographic population does not have access.”

He said things are even worse in Ozark County.

But, he said, we can’t expect private companies to spend the money to reach into sparsely populated areas.

“I’m all in favor of a free-market system, but I can understand why these companies don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to put in towers where there won’t be enough customers to pay for it,” he said.

Smith said this situation calls for collaboration between government and private industry.

“We’re working with local companies, and we’re putting in WISP, wireless internet service providers, and that will give enough internet for people to watch the computer, to play video games, do the things they want to do,” said Smith.

Representative Smith said the committee’s goal is to have high-speed internet available in 99% of Missouri’s communities within five years.

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