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Senate Bill Could Restrict Internet Access for Small Missouri Communities

Norlando Pobre

A Senate bill could put an end to a study conducted by the city of Columbia. The study has been ongoing for several months, and the city was completing the study with Internet service providers in order to expand its Internet network.

Senator Kurt Schaefer has sponsored a bill that would end the study. The bill would require residents to vote on the issue of Internet expansion before any of the services could be installed.

The Manager of Government Relations for the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities, Ewell Lawson, said the bill would be harmful for communities with limited Internet access.

“This bill would allow current incumbent providers--it would allow them not to seek out any efforts or it does not incentivize them to increase speeds that are necessary to connect our communities to the world,” Lawson said.

The spokesperson for the Columbia Water and Light Department, Connie Kacprowicz, said the bill would further limit Internet access for residents who live in small towns.

“Smaller communities are concerned because they don’t have access to high-speed Internet,” Kacprowicz said. “Many of these communities in Missouri can’t even download a Netflix movie.”

Kacprowicz said the city of Columbia has extra fibers to sell to Internet service providers. According to Kacprowicz, the city was going to sell these fibers to the service providers. This would allow the providers to increase Internet access for small communities.

However, with this bill, those plans could be compromised.

“It could restrict Columbia as far as how we lease out our current infrastructure,” Kacprowicz said.

In response to the bill, Internet service providers sent a letter to Senator Eric Schmitt, the chair of the Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee, asking for the Senate to reject the bill.

Lawson said the deadline on the final decision for the bill has not been set. 

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