Sep. 6—For all their sniping at each other, it's amazing what the two sides have in common.
One of those commonalities: Making sure everyone in rural areas has access to the internet.
Earlier this week, President Joe Biden's U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona stopped in Missouri and Kansas to discuss efforts to expand internet access.
During one of those stops, speaking to superintendents and education leaders, Cardona said internet access is the "equity issue of our moment," and then promised: "This president is going to put the digital divide in your rearview mirror, and not just through talk but through action."
Let's hope. Cardona highlighted the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides up to $30 per month for qualifying households to pay their internet bills and a one-time $100 discount to purchase a device.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson, in his annual State of the State speech earlier this year, asked for $250 million for rural broadband, and tweeted: "Last year, we made one of the largest investments in broadband expansion across our state. Thanks to our efforts, nearly 70,000 under-served homes and businesses across our state now have broadband. ... If we can put electricity in every home, we can do the same with broadband."
This summer, Parson promoted the U.S. Department of Commerce's announcement that Missouri will receive more than $1.7 billion in federal funding to help close that broadbad gap. It's part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, which passed in 2021 and invests more than $1 trillion in everything from highways to broadband.
Parson, in making the announcement this summer, thanked former U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt for his work to help secure this funding, and called broadband expansion statewide a "critical priority."
"This significant allocation will greatly assist our ongoing investments in Missouri's broadband infrastructure and build upon our recent $400 million investment."
So, there are areas where we have more in common than we let on and areas where we can work together.
Earlier this year, BroadbandNow Research compiled a comparison of all 50 states and ranked them for overall coverage and the quality of their connections. Missouri and Oklahoma were in the bottom 10; Kansas ranked 30th.
Covering Cardona's visit, the Missouri Independent, citing FCC data, noted five places in Missouri and 10 in Kansas where residents have no access to the internet. There are many more areas in both states where fewer than 20% of residents have broadband access, and that includes part of Southwest Missouri and Southeast Kansas.
We have said before that the pandemic, for all the suffering it caused, did us one favor: It exposed that digital divide and highlighted the critical importance of inexpensive, reliable broadband access as students tried to study and stay connected, as employees shifted to work from home and as many people had to rely on rural medicine.
We applaud both parties for making this a priority, and for showing — despite their best efforts — that they have something in common and make a pretty good team when they are willing to work together.