Missouri has an internet problem ó and rural Missourians are disproportionately facing the brunt of the impact.
Missouri ranks comparatively low in both connectivity and broadband speed in the United States, putting rural Missourians behind their urban counterparts, and Missouri as a whole behind other states.
A special project by the Columbia Missourian has found that lack of reliable access to the internet manifests itself in ways that touch on nearly every aspect of life.
In many cases, people are left with speeds of only 0.5 Mbps. Forget Netflix or music ó with those speeds business owners canít keep their stores operating, residents sometimes canít send email. That leaves some Missourians looking for expensive alternatives, such as checking into hotels so they can access Wi-Fi to operate their online business.
Rural businesses limited by lack of broadband Hickory County ranks 92nd out of 115 in broadband speed in Missouri counties, according to Federal Communications Commission data.
Missouri farmers are left behind, unable to stay competitive in a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on the internet to check crop prices and weather patterns, maintain medical records for livestock and operate GPS-reliant machinery.
Broadband access helps farmers stay competitive However, studies have shown that about 60 percent of rural Missourians lack broadband access.
Rural hospitals and other healthcare providers, already lacking specialized experts, canít connect rural Missourians to the specialists they need.
Telehealth gives rural Missouri greater access to health care The telehealth network has helped connect patients to healthcare providers from their own homes ó but it requires broadband access in order to work.
And even when the technology is bought and paid for, poor broadband renders equipment in Fatima schools and others across Missouri useless as they are forced to ration internet to avoid hitting a cap that effectively shuts down the entire system.
In rural schools, teachers prepare for the unexpected Lack of high-speed internet in schools and homes limits the ability to expose students to technology.
The problem has left behind a graveyard of failed legislation and initiatives over the years. Efforts within the Missouri General Assembly to address the problem have failed, and former governor Jay Nixon's now-defunct initiative MOBroadbandNow issued its last report in June 2015.
Little legislative progress on improving Missouri broadband Since 2012, there have been at least six bills proposed in the Missouri legislature regarding broadband, but all were unsuccessful.
And while there has been progress federally and locally, with Gov. Eric Greitens' administration bringing in over $40 million for broadband access in schools, experts say bringing broadband access to Missouri will take a major, continuous effort.
"No one organization or institute was tasked with solving broadband, and no one entity can solve the problem," said Luke Holtschneider, rural development manager for the Missouri Department of Economic Development.
Behind the scenes
Listen to the reporters talk about covering this issue in these podcasts.
Rural broadband podcast: Business This is part of a four-part series on rural broadband.
Rural broadband podcast: Health care This is podcast is part of a four-part series on rural broadband.
Rural broadband podcast: Agriculture This is podcast is part of a four-part series on rural broadband.
Rural broadband podcast: Education This is part of a four-part series on rural broadband in Missouri.
Supervising editor is Mark Horvit, firstname.lastname@example.org.