JEFFERSON CITY - The U.S. government will be spending money to get information about Internet lines in Missouri that at least one major telecommunications company has offered to provide for free, but only if the state keeps the information secret.
Gov. Jay Nixon's office announced that Missouri will receive a $1.5 million grant to map out where current broadband lines exist within the state. The federal Recovery Act grant also provides the state almost a half-a-million dollars for other broadband planning activities.
Currently, the state has approximately 100 broadband providers, governor's spokesman Scott Holste said. While the location of some broadband lines are currently known, lines owned by AT&T and others have not been made public.
AT&T does not disclose the location of their lines for competitive and security reasons according to Kerry Hibbs, a spokesman for the company. They would be willing to provide the location to a third-party mapping agency, Hibbs said, under a "strict non-disclosure agreement."
Holste said the state has been in contact with AT&T and others to put non-disclosure agreements in place, but no formal requests have been made yet. As long as the information is protected, Hibbs said, they would be willing to provide it to the state for free.
The mapping project goes beyond just locating the lines, Holste said. The state, in partnership with MU, is collecting information on community broadband anchor points such as schools and courthouses. The mapping project is designed to provide "regional broadband by looking at it block by block," Holste said.
This coincides with a previous announcement that the state is working with Sho-Me Technologies to apply for federal funds to lay new broadband lines throughout the state. These federal funds would then be matched by $25 million in state money.
Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, who had pushed for mapping to be done in a subcommittee hearing last September, said the governor should hold off on awarding state funds for other broadband projects until the mapping is complete.
"Only government would fund projects before they know what needs to be done," Lager said. "We need to put a hold on all funding until we know where real problems exist."
While Holste said no decision has been made on granting state funds before or after the mapping project is complete, Holste said the state funds will be awarded as soon as federal grant money for the project is approved. Holste said he expects the federal government to begin announcing grants later this month and continue through February while the mapping project is expected to be completed within two years.