Joplin, Missouri has lower broadband coverage on average

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(TNS) – Access to affordable, reliable and widespread high-speed Internet service in Joplin is a great need, concludes a study commissioned by city authorities.

A broadband analytics report developed by CCG Consulting of Ashville, NC, and Finley Engineering of Lamar highlights gaps in service that consultants and city staff say need to be addressed for Joplin remains competitive.

“Connectivity is one of the most important and transformative things we can do and work at the moment,” Troy Bolander, director of planning, development and neighborhood services, said in a meeting on November 8 during which the report was detailed for the city council. . His department commissioned the study as part of the city’s exploration of smart cities.


“If you look at the history of the country, we were successful when we were connected,” Bolander said. “When this country was founded, if you weren’t located near a trail or trade route, you probably didn’t survive. If you haven’t lived near a waterway, you probably didn’t survive. Not along the tracks, you probably didn’t survive. “

In modern times, he said, “If a community is not close to the interstate system, you may not have survived or were not as viable. It is the same today. ‘Today with broadband and connectivity. That’s how you connect people today and ideas. I think that’s so important. We have to make sure all of our citizens are connected. “

He said city officials had done a good job when they decided to embrace internet access and connectivity as one of the goals of smart cities. This was done before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the pandemic has shown weaknesses in local internet service as people go online to healthcare, work from home, and students return work and take classes. in line.

Patty Heagel, deputy director of planning, development and outreach, said the city has joined Smart Cities and US Ignite to help identify where and how Joplin could advance its technology. A smart city is a technologically modern urban area that uses different types of electronic methods and sensors to collect specific data. US Ignite Inc. says it is focused on “accelerating the movement of smart communities by guiding communities towards a connected future, creating a path for private sector growth and advancing the technological research that is at the heart of of the development of smart cities “.

Heagel said that in addition to identifying gaps in internet service, the study showed that people may not know how to use their cell phones to connect to online services such as telemedicine or how to connect to these services with a computer. Others do not have computers or Internet connections.

GAPS OF USE

Doug Dawson, president of CCG, said a gap report serves several purposes. It informs city authorities and residents about broadband and can be used to provide information to internet service providers who might be interested in doing business here.

There are now a number of ISPs in Joplin, he said.

One is AT&T, which it says stopped offering direct internet lines to new customers across the country last year, which could indicate it will eventually pull out of the market. If that happens, the cable companies would likely become the predominant providers.

Sparklight is the cable operator for most of the city, although some residents use Mediacom. There are also a few small fixed wireless service providers and some satellite providers. Many residents use their cell phones to access the Internet instead of having Internet connections.

Dawson said the study identified several significant gaps in Internet service here.

“The biggest gap is probably that almost 71% of the city’s residents have a high-speed internet connection. That’s well below the national average, which is 87%. You don’t have enough people online. if you want to be a Smart City in the future. “

Respondents cited several reasons for not having an Internet connection.

There is what Dawson called an “affordability gap”. This comes from the 13% of residents surveyed who said they couldn’t afford current internet products that would connect to their homes.

“We found that broadband in Joplin is expensive, so there’s a good reason they couldn’t afford it,” Dawson said.

Want Option 2 Another 10% said they used their cell phone rather than having an internet connection at home. Some do not want to buy a cell phone and also pay for a broadband connection.

But mobile phone data services don’t provide the download speed needed to reliably connect to schools and doctors’ offices, work from home or participate in virtual meetings, according to the consultant.

“There is also what I would call a competitive gap,” said Dawson. Many of those interviewed, especially businesses, said they wanted more competition for broadband. “They all feel like they have only one supplier and they are really hungry for a second option,” he said.

The cost of broadband service here is $ 82- $ 86 per month, higher than most other countries where prices are around $ 70 per month. Almost everyone in the survey – 98% – wants lower prices, saying broadband is too expensive in Joplin.

Reliability is another issue for Joplin broadband users. Those with fiber service were happy, but those who don’t complain that download speeds are an issue and that there are frequent outages, even for a few minutes a day, according to the survey.

Andy Hines, of Finley Engineering, said a city-wide wireless network would not work in Joplin due to interference from trees and other obstacles. This is why the consultants recommend a fiber network such as that provided by cable services.

The estimated cost of a city-wide fiber optic network is $ 60-72 million. It would cost $ 52 million to make part of the city. Consultants can bring these figures to suppliers to show them that it is the estimated cost. It breaks down to around $ 3,000 per house.

But they must be able to show the providers that they could make money by providing the service. It would take 42% to 45% of the city’s customers for a supplier to break even. “In the survey, we had well over 42% of people who said they were interested in a fiber network,” Hines said.

In order to attract a new supplier, the city may have to pay part of the cost of building a fiber optic system.

This is where the interest of federal and state governments in providing more infrastructure, which includes Internet access, can help.

PAY THE PRICE

Dawson said there are currently many grants available and there may be more funding in the future from federal and state sources. Although much is aimed at expanding the service to rural areas, Joplin may be able to get help with new availability of grants to come.

In addition, grants are available for schools, libraries and health care to improve connectivity. “Let’s get all of these people to the table, and this is where you get your money’s worth,” Dawson said.

To be ready for the future, Joplin must find ways to increase its connectivity rate by 71% and use federal dollars for connectivity and to provide computers so people can connect.

“Right now, we’re sitting at a perfect place where you can get some money to help” build an updated network, said Dawson. “It doesn’t look like an ISP is going to use all of their money to build a network, but they might be interested if there was money available to help, such as a public-private partnership.”

Joplin officials might consider developing a plan to connect certain areas of the city in stages to new or expanded broadband.

The consultants also recommended that a member of staff or a city team be appointed to keep the movement going on a plan while a broadband committee already in place involving the consultants, city staff, representatives of the city. board and health officials and other business partners identify realistic ways to approach a plan.

Dawson said there was plenty of time to prepare before new federal grants became available.

NOT SITTING YET

“The broadband we use in our businesses and in our homes has grown at a rate that has doubled roughly every three years, and has been since 1980, so there is no reason to believe this is going to stop,” Dawson said.

At this rate, a decade from now existing broadband will carry 10 times more data than it does today, and study data indicates Joplin’s service is already in demand, Dawson said.

“Joplin is not sitting here ready for the future, and this is really one of the calls of the Smart Cities plan,” Dawson said.

Mayor Ryan Stanley has asked the city manager to report to council in the future on next steps and who will be the quarterback on the project.

© 2021 The Joplin Globe, distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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