farm country landscape

Trump Administration Backs Rural Broadband

Widespread rural broadband can change the face of rural America

Earlier this year, the Trump administration outlined an infrastructure plan that would earmark $50 billion in block grants to finance rural-focused projects. These dollars would fund projects such as expansion of rural broadband service — something that the president promised in a January speech at the Farm Bureau annual convention.

While part of a $200 billion plan estimated to stimulate $1.5 trillion in infrastructure spending, the initiative will go a long way in strengthening a rural economy that has lagged in recovering from the recession experienced in 2007-2008.

To those of us with reliable internet access, the idea of being disconnected is almost romantic. No email. No constant phone notifications. Peace and quiet. But that’s a pleasant fantasy because we know that we can easily reconnect.

To the 23 million people, or 39 percent of rural Americans, who don’t have access to broadband services, the reality is far from romantic. Faster and more reliable internet access would open the door for more robust economic development, educational opportunities and telemedicine in rural areas. This type of support and progress is exactly what NTCA — the Rural Broadband Association — has been working towards.

The NTCA represents nearly 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading the charge to build a better broadband future for rural America. When the current policy initiative was set in motion, this bipartisan group established the #BuildBroadbandWithUs movement. This effort was created to harness the momentum of the policy ideas with the power of social media.

And so far, it’s working. NTCA members use the hashtag to tweet about Senate hearings and rural broadband advancements. For the first time, it feels like there is a wave of movement that will bring expanded broadband service to the underserved parts of our country.

For agriculture, the meaning moves beyond the impact on rural communities. The expansion of broadband internet means that the technology being developed for on-farm use can be fully capitalized on. Farmers and ranchers can research products without first having a dial-up connection. Video chats with extension, crop advisors and experts can occur without special preparation. Technology can be used real-time and will be adopted at a faster rate, purely because it is now accessible. To those who are marketing to farmers, it will be a revolution as well. All of those cool gadgets and tactics you see consumer products do will be possible for your grower customers. Customer accessibility will cease to be a concern.

But it goes far beyond this. Imagine a young farmer now keeping the family farm because their children have access to educational options that were unavailable before. Or they stay because a spouse can realistically work remotely thanks to technology. The options are endless, and they could very well mean a new lease on life for rural areas.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t an uphill battle for expansion. Even with the support of the president and activity in Washington, it will require tens of billions of dollars to bring broadband to the unserved and underserved. That is an investment that private companies are hesitant to make because they know that the profit isn’t there, and profit is still key. That makes the new funding potential even more important.

That is why it is critical that we make our voices heard. Whether or not we live in rural America, we are still connected to it. Engage. Support the rural broadband effort. Write or call your elected officials if you are so moved. Use the broadband access that you have to help make it possible for others because supporting farmers and ranchers isn’t just about supporting what they do in the field.