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How 80 Years of Rural Electrification Will Help Bring Broadband to Rural America

Posted by Brandon McBride, Administrator, Rural Utilities Service in Rural Technology
Feb 21, 2017

We’re celebrating the 80th anniversary of the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration this month. The REA was created because in 1935, rural areas had no electricity—no lights or power to transform their hard work and efforts into efficiency and productivity. With the creation of the REA, and the subsequent Congressional action through the Rural Electrification Act, REA was able to empower rural America, changing lives and livelihoods for the better.

Rural Electrification Administration (REA) erects telephone lines in rural areas.
Rural Electrification Administration (REA) erects telephone lines in rural areas. Photo courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration.

A Pine Net worker prepares to climb a broadband tower in Broken Bow, OK.
A Pine Net worker prepares to climb a broadband tower as part of the upgrade for the communications and broadband systems throughout the area with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Broken Bow, OK on Thursday, Apr. 9, 2015. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

It was through the REA, USDA helped rural Americans build the infrastructure that today has helped make the U.S. the world’s breadbasket. While our electric program continues to contribute to a #modernUSDA with increased efficiency and smart-grid technology, USDA is leading the way to close a digital divide that presents a formidable threat to rural economies if allowed to continue.

Mrs. Nolan Freeman of Albertville, Alabama takes a monthly electric meter reading in October 1965.
Mrs. Nolan Freeman of Albertville, Alabama takes a monthly electric meter reading in October 1965. Photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.
Workers monitor control stations at Pine Net Telephone and internet stations for the communications and broadband systems in Broken Bow, OK.
Workers monitor control stations at Pine Net Telephone and internet stations as part of the upgrade for the communications and broadband systems throughout the area with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Broken Bow, OK on Thursday, Apr. 9, 2015. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

Our experience in serving rural America’s electricity needs has led to great success in bringing broadband to rural America – recently with the funds made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Rural Electrification Administration in North Fairfield, Ohio was responsible for the installation of these electric power lines in 1940.
Rural Electrification Administration in North Fairfield, Ohio was responsible for the installation of these electric power lines in 1940. Photo courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.
Oklahoma Rural Development State Director Ryan McMullen  joins project representatives, elected officials, and community representatives to cut a ribbon officially declaring the completion of the 1st of 30 towers, comprising the new broadband network.
Oklahoma Rural Development State Director Ryan McMullen joins project representatives, elected officials, and community representatives to cut a ribbon officially declaring the completion of the 1st of 30 towers, comprising the new broadband network. USDA photo.

If you want to see a prime example of how these investments are impacting our rural communities, take a quick visit to rural Southeast Oklahoma to hear the story of how broadband investment is creating a transformation that, to me, shows strong parallels to the REA investments from eighty years ago. It's long-term investment like this that will pay economic dividends for generations to come, and I'm proud that USDA is leading the charge.

Category/Topic: Rural Technology

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