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Agencies Making Progress to Connect America

Over the last eight years, our agencies have worked to expand the availability and adoption of broadband in recognition of the increasingly important role that the Internet is playing in every facet of society.

Recognizing the opportunity to marshal resources across the entire federal government, President Obama in March 2015 created the Broadband Opportunity Council, co-chaired by the Secretaries of Agriculture and Commerce, which in August 2015 identified a series of executive actions that could be taken through existing agency programs, missions, and budgets to increase broadband deployment, competition, and adoption.

USDA Works to Deliver Broadband to Rural Communities

Thanks to USDA Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service funding and Home Communications, Inc., those who live and work in a rural Kansas community don’t have to travel miles for broadband service. High school and college students can upload, research, and complete homework assignments online. Employees can work remotely, farmers can monitor operations, and businesses can successfully market and promote their products and services.

Home Communications, Inc. (HCI), based in Gypsum, Kan., is one example of how rural telecommunication service providers are investing in the future of their communities. Since they opened doors as a rural telephone company in 1933, HCI has transitioned to a broadband service provider focused on growth by expanding their customer base and service territory.

Distance Learning and Telemedicine projects

Some of the best stories about successful rural health projects are often from those who offer medical services, or those who benefit from those services.  It was inspiring to hear from an Oklahoma woman who cared for her elderly mother, thankful because broadband and telemedicine services meant she no longer had to spend the better part of an hour sending medical data to a hospital over 100 miles away via dial-up service and then wait another hour for medication instructions.

USDA funding for broadband and Distance Learning and Telemedicine services helps connect rural communities to medical services and improve access to quality care from health care experts. For example, Norton Healthcare Foundation in Kentucky provides specialty care to patients in rural communities using telemedicine technology.  Providers consult with specialists to determine changes in care and whether care can be managed locally.  This reduces unnecessary transfers and allows patients to remain in their community where their support system is. 

Our Commitment to Diversity and Equality at Rural Development

Last month, USDA took time to reflect on the great strides we’ve made in achieving better Civil Rights results for those who work here and those we serve.  This month’s chapter, Rural America is Back in Business, examines how USDA has helped the rural economy rebound.  By embracing Civil Rights and opportunity for all, the case can be made that the two themes are closely related.

As I reflect on some of the ways USDA Rural Development (RD) has demonstrated equity and inclusion for our external and internal customers. One of the goals Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed last month is USDA’s “New and Improved Outreach to Expand the Breadth of Our Service.” Perhaps one of RD’s biggest expansion efforts is the creation of specific outreach plans to reach the underserved and unserved populations, particularly through our StrikeForce for Rural Growth and Opportunity initiative.

From Recovery to Renewal: Rural America's Partner for Prosperity

Eight years ago this month, the US economy went into free fall. The crash of the housing market led to a chain of historic levels of bankruptcies and layoffs. The stock market would eventually lose 20% of its value; family incomes, investments, and home values were being crushed. Along with that, the hopes and dreams of many families.

One month after stepping into office, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – the greatest single investment in our nation’s economy since “The New Deal.”

Fighting Crime with Fiber Optics

Near Stearns, Kentucky, a state trooper monitored traffic, watching for a car described in a just-issued bulletin. A car passed. No match.

Stearns is situated on the Upper Cumberland Plateau, McCreary County which is home to just 18,000 people.

Another car flashed by.

Public-Private Partnerships: A Forum Focus

Teamwork can improve virtually any endeavor, from partnering with a neighbor by exchanging butchered meat for hay to feed the rest of the herd or simply sharing a ride to save on gas.  The result is usually savings and efficiency.

At USDA, that notion is taken to another level with public-private partnerships that improve economic stability for producers, the financial sector, and a nation that leans heavily on the shoulders of its farmers and ranchers.

2,700 Miles of Fiber

In 2010, Scott County, Tennessee languished at a twenty-one percent unemployment rate, not unusual for rural areas. By early 2015, that rate had halved. Through fiber optic power, Highland Telephone Cooperative’s vision, and funding from USDA Rural Development, these rural counties have become robust community models of technological enfranchisement.

Five years ago in the communities dotting the Upper Cumberland Plateau, lack of broadband access was a barrier to services that residents and businesses in urban areas take for granted. Geographical challenges such as the region’s remote and rocky terrain, combined with the lack of subscribers to provide business income, are common reasons rural areas do not enjoy affordable and reliable high-speed internet service.

One More Tool to Help Bring Broadband to Rural America

"What can I do to bring broadband to my rural community?” That’s a question a lot of people from rural communities are asking, and it’s good to know that now there is one more way to help those without a rural broadband plan to bring high-speed internet service to their homes and businesses.

Communities interested in using broadband service to help revitalize small-town main streets and promote economic development are encouraged to apply for Cool & Connected, a pilot program sponsored by USDA’s Rural Utilities Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Sustainable Communities. Through Cool & Connected, a team of experts will help community members develop strategies and an action plan for using planned or existing broadband service to promote smart, sustainable community development.

Taking Broadband to the Next Level

Getting broadband to unserved rural areas is one of the toughest challenges we face. It’s far easier to make a business case to serve 500 people per square mile than it is where there are only five people per square mile. Broadband is expensive to deploy through hundreds of miles of countryside, including mountains, canyons, forests and deserts. But that’s our challenge.

The Broadband Opportunity Council report the White House released today lays the groundwork to build on the tremendous success of deploying broadband under the Recovery Act, which helped USDA and the Commerce Department expand essential broadband service nationwide. Yet even with this historical investment, we have much more to do.