Rural future linked to high tech

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Bringing high-speed Internet service and similar technologies to rural Missouri is a costly venture, but regional communications professionals and state politicians suggest it's going to be a necessity.

Danny Stratton, owner of Show-Me Net in Jackson, said if Internet access were more readily available in rural areas, he would move out of town.

"If I could move to Crump, in the middle of nowhere, and could get direct connection, I would be more likely to move out in God's country if I had direct access," said Stratton, whose not-for-profit company helps people in rural areas connect to the Web. "People who are moving out of the city would welcome that."

Stratton said companies and individuals are leaving urban areas. He predicts more would move if they had high-speed Internet access.

Outgoing Gov. Bob Holden brought up the issue Monday at the annual Governor's Conference on Agriculture in Osage Beach.

"High-speed Internet, broadband, all of that," Holden said. "It should be readily available like it is in the cities. If you have low living costs and better living conditions in the rural areas where you can raise your families, where would you choose to live?"

A major theme at the conference was how to stimulate rural communities and enhance farming operations.

Availability of the kind of technology it takes to bring high-speed access to rural areas is coming, say Stratton and Meredith White of Big River Telephone Co. of Cape Girardeau, but right now it is costly.

"Commercial providers can make more money in the city," Stratton said. "Sometimes out in the country there may be one person for every mile or so. It takes a lot of expensive line to go out to them."

White of Big River said she believes high technology and the demand for it will eventually come to rural areas.

"That entails companies like Big River expanding and networking and getting the government involved in helping fund infrastructure to get out to the rural areas," she said. Recently Big River was able to bring Internet access to Saxony Lutheran High School with the aid of a grant the school received.

High technology is already making inroads, White said. Technology exists that makes it possible to bundle lines together to transmit voice and data simultaneously.

"It decreases the need for actual physical equipment that has to go to the remote areas," she said.

Already companies are using this technology for teleconferencing, White said. She said she could see the advantage for agriculture use, allowing farmers to have with a few keystrokes the information they might need on a piece of equipment or different crop applications, as well as allowing them to stay in touch with each other.

State Rep. Scott Lipke of Jackson, who represents the 157th District as a Republican legislator, said the state has roles it can play in making technology happen because the state itself can benefit from it. The state cannot assume the full financial burden, he said, but can make it easier for businesses to afford the technology.

"Anything we do, it needs to be a partnership where we make it easier for businesses to locate here," Lipke said.

When a business locates in Southeast Missouri and state agencies help it succeed, Lipke said, then the business can afford to invest in the technology that will make it do even better. Lipke said he served on an interim committee last summer on job creation and economic development. That committee heard testimony that shows if Internet access were available in more remote areas of the state, people in those areas would not have to commute so far to work, saving enough money in transportation to pay for the technology.

"The whole point is as long as we have a good standard of living we may get people who would locate anywhere in the country or in the state they want to," Lipke said. "They could work from home on the computer."

The Associated Press contributed to this story

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