Company president: Stimulus dollars could double Big River Telephone staff

Monday, March 9, 2009

Big River Telephone Co. could double the size of its staff and expand its broadband services in an eight-county region if the company receives funding from the $7.2 billion broadband expansion act.

Company president Kevin Cantwell said the Cape Girardeau-based telephone service provider plans to apply for some of the available funds that will come in the form of grants and loans. While he wouldn't disclose the amount the company will apply for, he said it would be "substantial."

"For the area it would help create very competitive jobs and opportunities for individuals," Cantwell said. "Many times we don't have enough high-tech jobs for those who graduate from this area. We want to keep that brain trust in this area."

If approved, the project would start immediately. Cantwell said the effort could be complete within 12 to 15 months.

Signed into law last month, the $787 billion American Reinvestment and Recovery Act would provide more than $7 billion to extend high-speed Internet service in rural areas. A 2007 study from the Missouri Public Service Commission found that about one-fifth of Missouri's residents live in areas without high-speed Internet access.

Teaching the technology

Cantwell said Big River Telephone could potentially double the size of its staff from its current 66, add new cell phone towers and open retail locations that would offer cell phone service and a technology expert at each location who could address topics ranging from iTunes to websites such as Wikipedia. Cantwell said the technology experts may also be available for presentations in area schools.

"While the technology is out there, many people still don't know how to use it properly," Cantwell said. "We'll show them how to use it strategically so students can compete with those in districts in major metropolitan areas.

"Some kids may have Internet access when they're in school, but when they go home from school those in the rural areas may not have high-speed Internet access," he said. "Let's try to level the playing field by giving them the same infrastructure that is in place in Kansas City or St. Louis."

Cantwell also said that businesses will benefit from the expansion.

Better access

Cantwell said Big River Telephone has been working on providing better access long before the stimulus package was passed in Congress. He said the company acquired a band on the federal license Advanced Wireless Spectrum two years ago with the intention of serving the counties where the majority of its 50,000 customers are. Those counties are Bollinger, Cape Girardeau, Madison, Perry, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Washington and Wayne.

To present his case, Cantwell is meeting with leaders from law enforcement, education and government throughout the state. Public meetings are not scheduled at this time.

"If we can pull this thing off and do what we know we can do, we can improve the business climate and education institutions and create well-paying jobs," Cantwell said. "I can't tell you where technology will be 10 years from now, but I can tell you technology will be based on a broadband network that is not available in this region today."

bblackwell@semissourian.com

388-3628

Pertinent address:

24 S. Minnesota St., Cape Girardeau, MO

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