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e-Connectivity: A Foundation for Rural Prosperity

Posted by Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development in Rural Technology
Aug 13, 2018
Mike Pauley of AgriTrails Coop
Rural business leaders like Mike Pauley of AgriTrails Coop in Hope, Kansas rely on modern high-speed e-Connectivity to keep the doors open. USDA photo by Preston Keres

In small towns from Maine to California, access to reliable, high-speed internet is a foundation for rural prosperity. From quality health care to advanced education and precision ag technology at the local farm equipment dealer, e-connectivity is a lifeline to the modern economy. And, yet we know that a significant number of rural Americans are not connected.

Under the leadership of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, our core mission at USDA is to do the Federal government’s part to increase prosperity in America’s rural communities. To fulfill this mission, we know that there are significant infrastructure gaps in rural places which must be addressed, including gaps in broadband e-connectivity. Rural communities need broadband infrastructure to thrive just as much as urban and suburban communities do, and if we address this need together, many of the other challenges in rural places become much more manageable.

I recently saw this firsthand during a visit to south central Kansas where nearly the entire county uses a dial-up connection. During a gathering at the county courthouse, I listened to many challenges that community leaders face: the need for new business investment, lack of advanced educational opportunity for students, and safety risk for first responders who have to rely on outdated technology. After talking with the sheriff and local officials, I realized that expanding access to broadband would remedy virtually 90 percent of the concerns we discussed. For example, with modern high-speed internet service, small business owners on Main Street could open the door to new a world of new customers through e-commerce. With that impact, my visit was a powerful reminder that much more is at stake in this e-connectivity gap than inconvenience.

USDA is taking action on a number of fronts, through infrastructure, partnerships, and innovation. First, we are driving greater collaboration between agencies in the federal family. Last year, Secretary Perdue chaired a task force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity that brought together more than 20 different federal agencies with resources for rural America. As we move forward in implementing their recommendations, we are centered on closer coordination in funding, policy and deployment of other resources such as mapping and outreach.

Second, we are improving the delivery of our programs within USDA through innovation. Earlier this month, we took important steps to streamline our loan and grant process so that the agency can make a conditional funding commitment before the historic preservation review is complete -- thereby easing the application burden for already financially challenging projects. We also are encouraging the development of new partnerships to serve communities that have insufficient broadband access -- such as a new venture between a telecom company and an electric cooperative or a municipality.

Finally, we are creating new tools. Earlier this year, Congress provided $600 million for a new broadband pilot program. This funding is a significant increase in our resources to build rural broadband infrastructure -- however, it is much more. With the flexibility that this authority provides, we have a unique opportunity to innovate the way the federal government invests in broadband infrastructure, for effective e-connectivity where it’s most needed in rural America for 21st Century productivity and quality of life. We will accomplish this while also being good stewards of taxpayer money and relying on proven, longstanding business models that been delivering telecommunications services to rural America for decades. Last month, we opened an important public comment period that will gather critical stakeholder input for the parameters of this new tool. With this information, we are working with speed, not haste, to design a program that will maximize the impact of these resources in connecting rural America.

Secretary Perdue recently described broadband e-connectivity as a “game changer” for our entire nation. With that importance, we are committed to partnering with local leaders to ensure that every rural community has an on-ramp to the “digital superhighway”. Working together, we can build strong, healthy and prosperous communities now and for generations to come.

People standing near a Tri-County Telephone Association truck
Tri-County Telephone Association brings broadband service to businesses and homes throughout the Flint Hills region of Kansas. USDA photo by Preston Keres
Category/Topic: Rural Technology

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Comments

Bertrice
Aug 14, 2018

“In small towns from Maine to California…”

It goes far beyond that. Here in rural Stevens County, WA approximately 80% of the county’s population lives outside of the incorporated areas. If small towns are facing an uphill battle what hope is there for the true rural folks? And no, we’re not farmers, either.

Rural electrification in the 30s was a hard sell but it happened. Digital parity is critical for millions of rural residents. That also means no new installs at the legal minimum of 25/3. That would be like finally getting electricity but only being allowed one outlet.

Gary Fuselier
Aug 16, 2018

I would like Secretary Perdue to allocate as many funds as possible to development of high speed access to the internet in rural Colorado. Many of our citizens and heath care providers are very limited as to what they can do with very poor up and down speed'
Thank You,
Gary Fuselier
Florence, Colorado

Brad Bushman
Aug 31, 2018

We really need a reliable broadband source in the rural areas of Coke County, Texas. Please help!

Coke County Rancher

Ben Weaver
Sep 17, 2018

@Brad Bushman - We appreciate the feedback. We’ll get this information to our Texas State Office and make sure they have Coke County on their list for consideration and research on broadband investment. Be sure to contact your local telephone cooperative and let them know of your interest, too.

Lester Newkirk
Sep 17, 2018

How can we get more information on getting this in Saint Louis, Oklahoma?

Ben Weaver
Sep 18, 2018

@Lester Newkirk – thanks for your question, Lester. We will make sure our Oklahoma office has Pottawatomie County on their list for consideration, and I’d also encourage you to contact your local telephone cooperative and let them know you’re wanting high speed broadband access – and perhaps even encourage them to look into USDA Rural Development’s programs. We appreciate your interest!

Cynthia Bennett
Oct 01, 2018

How can we get more information on getting this in Southern Arkansas?

Ben Weaver
Oct 01, 2018

@Cynthia Bennett – Your local telephone cooperative serving southern Arkansas would be your first contact – encourage them to research USDA’s broadband connectivity programs if they’re not already familiar with them. We will also ensure our Arkansas state office has that area on their list. Thank you for your interest!

Grace Gniazdowska
Nov 03, 2018

This sounds wonderful. I am moving to a rural area in Graceville FL and the internet services options are horrible, every single provider is rated 1 or 2 stars by the people living in that area. Even though Comcast xfinity is only 20 miles away in a nearby town, they do not service Graceville :( The options are dsl or satellite and people are saying their internet is always going out, or it's horribly slow. They do not provide good service but they never fail to bill them either. What a waste of money. Even $1 is a waste when the service stinks. Thank you Mr Perdue for thinking of us in rural areas. I hope this program is successful. :)