Cape Girardeau-based telecom still waiting on $24 million for broadband project

Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Gov. Jay Nixon speaks Thursday, Aug. 5, 2010 at Big River Telephone Co. in Cape Girardeau, with the company's president, Kevin Cantwell, left. Big River is one of three partners in the MoBroadbandNow initiative that were awarded a share of $49.1 million in Recovery Act funds to expand the reach of broadband across Missouri. (Fred Lynch)

Five months after Big River Telephone president Kevin Cantwell learned his company would receive $24 million in federal stimulus funds to construct a broadband network in Southeast Missouri, shovels still haven't moved any dirt.

More paperwork needs to be processed before the federal government will release the money Big River needs to begin work on its new seven-county wireless broadband network, Cantwell said.

"There are a tremendous amount of checks and balances," he said. "We're meeting regularly with representatives of the federal government. Everything is contingent on signing the final paperwork. I'd hoped it'd be signed by now."

In light of the Missouri Department of Economic Development's revocation last week of more than $2 million in economic development funds for a new Cape Girardeau medical clinic ≠-- money pulled because of executive Weaver Dickerson's probation for bad checks -- Cantwell said he doesn't mind going through a rigorous due-diligence process before receiving the grant funds.

"We understand they want to make sure tax dollars are going where they're supposed to go, and I'm all for it," Cantwell said.

While Big River waits for federal officials to release the $12.2 million in grants and $12.2 million in loans, the five employees the telecommunications company hired continue to move forward planning the project.

"Contracts are set to go," Cantwell said. "There are a lot of people counting on this both internally at Big River and externally. I'm getting calls from people every day saying 'when is it going to be here?'"

The company plans to add 75 employees who will work at Big River Broadband's new headquarters in Farmington, Mo., and at four regional "solution centers" where people can sign up for wireless broadband and cellular phone services, Cantwell said.

"We have many offers [to prospective employees] sitting on the street that are contingent on paperwork being signed," Cantwell said.

Big River Broadband's wireless network will serve Washington, St. Francois, Ste. Genevieve, Madison, Perry, Bollinger and Cape Girardeau counties. Basic home service will be priced at $14.99 per month for seniors, students and the disabled, Cantwell said.

Once work begins on the project, it will take about 20 months to complete.

The company hasn't said in which areas the service will be available first.

"We want to meet the most people's needs as efficiently as possible and as soon as possible," Cantwell said.

Big River's broadband project is part of the MoBroadbandNow initiative, a public-private partnership to build broadband access across the state. Gov. Jay Nixon previously said his goal is to increase broadband accessibility from its current level of 79.7 percent to 95 percent within five years.

Big River's project will be designed to provide access to 90 percent of the seven-county area it will serve, including 44,967 households, 7,511 businesses, 61 schools and 143 medical facilities.

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

24 S. Minnesota Ave, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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