White River Valley Electric Cooperative credits overwhelming member support for winning Missouri’s largest broadband grant from American Rescue Plan Act funds—$47.3 million—to help connect its rugged service territory.
“We had a large number of letters supporting our project from businesses, organizations in our communities, and from state legislators,” said Beau Jackson, CEO of White River Connect, the electric co-op’s broadband subsidiary.
The state Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program “emphasized the importance of local support,” he said. “When I went through the applications, I can see pages and pages of these letters.”
The Branson-based co-op, which earned board approval only last July, braced for low returns on its seven applications for funds to build a high-speed internet network across its five-county service area nestled in the Ozark Mountains.
When the state announced the award on Jan. 23, “I about fell out of my seat,” Jackson said. “I think what they saw in the applications is not that we had pretty letterhead. It’s just that we made the case that our communities are in need of fast and reliable internet service.”
Three counties served by the co-op even offered to reallocate over $9 million in ARPA funds they received for other projects toward White River’s broadband build, he added.
“That resonates that there is a need when we’re receiving that much local support,” Jackson said.
White River Connect has been working with NRTC to design and develop the project. Groundbreaking on the $260 million, five-year all fiber-optic build is expected in the third quarter of this year. Fiber-to-the-home connections are scheduled to begin in 2024.
The co-op will be able to offer subscribers speeds above 1 gigabit for data uploads and downloads to meet future demand for bandwidth.
“This grant is a huge win for the co-op and our communities,” Jackson said. “We are very excited and can’t wait to get it done and make a difference in people’s lives and our communities.”
Other electric co-ops awarded broadband grants by the state included Tipton-based Co-Mo Comm with $2.8 million; Trenton-based Grundy Electric Cooperative’s broadband subsidiary, Mid-States Services, LLC, $6 million; Butler-based Osage Valley Electric Cooperative Association, $9.5 million; El Dorado Springs-based Sac Osage Electric Cooperative, $3 million; Sikeston-based SEMO Electric Cooperative, $16.6 million; and Savannah-based United Electric Cooperative’s broadband subsidiary, United Services, Inc., $8 million.
Cathy Cash is a staff writer for NRECA.