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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Jan. 15, 2020, file photo, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson waves as he concludes the State of the State address in Jefferson City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson, File)

On Thursday, July 2, Gov. Mike Parson signed HB 1768 and HB 2120 extending the Missouri Broadband Grant Program through 2027 at CO-MO Connect in Tipton.

The Missouri Broadband Grant Program was created in 2018 to help providers, communities, counties and regions be able to invest in broadband infrastructure for unserved and underserved areas.

"Now, more than ever, access to high-speed broadband is critical to Missouri's infrastructure," Parson said. "We greatly appreciate the leadership of Representative Louis Riggs and Senator Dan Hegeman on this legislation, which will help us continue to bring the best possible broadband programs and services to all Missourians, especially to those in rural areas of the state."

HB 1768 extends the broadband program an additional six years. It also modifies the powers of Neighborhood Improvement and Community Improvement Districts to include broadband as an acceptable project. This will build on Missouri's efforts to bridge the digital gap and expand broadband access to all areas of the state.

At Thursday's bill signing, Parson, along with Representative Louis Riggs, spoke on how important it is for Missourians that these bills be passed and signed, especially during the pandemic.

"This pandemic has caused many things, not the least of which is how bad life can be without internet access," Riggs said. "To the 20,000 Missouri high school seniors who did not have access to online learning platforms, to the businesses whose operations were interrupted by having 35-40 percent of their bandwidth available soaked up by Netflix and Youtube, to our senior citizens who were not able to use TeleMedicine resources to make their virtual doctors appointments during critical times. Lack of broadband access shows more than ever the need to treat this vital infrastructure."

Broadband and having the access to it in urban and rural Missouri will change the way the state overcomes this pandemic whether it's for an economical, recreational, medical or educational purpose. Parson and Riggs, along with many others, are hopeful that signing these bills and providing reliable broadband will be a step in the right direction for Missouri.

Along with HB 1768, Parson signed HB 2120, which provides protections for safe drinking water in Missouri's schools. Missouri's schools and Department of Health and Senior Services will be able to capitalize on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency grants of $719,000 that will assist with lead water testing.

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