Keeping up with the Times: Expanding Broadband Access to Rural America

Wednesday, July 22, 2015 - 2:39pm

Kaylen Baker

AFBF Intern

The digital economy is rapidly growing, and farmers and ranchers who can’t keep up are being left in the dust.

Broadband services play an integral part in the global economy, and those without access can easily fall behind in the rapidly expanding global market. Farmers and ranchers in rural America rely on broadband service to assist in running and managing their farms and businesses. However, broadband access in parts of rural America can be shaky at best, putting farmers and ranchers at an economic disadvantage.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 17 percent of Americans lack access to advanced broadband service—and the majority live in rural areas. Fifty-three percent of rural Americans lack access to service reaching the broadband benchmark speed set by the FCC. In comparison, only 8 percent of urban Americans lack access to the same service.

Americans rely on farmers and ranchers to produce food for our rapidly growing population. The technology to grow more with less is readily available, but a broadband connection is necessary to fully implement these technologies. With broadband access, farmers and ranchers can use precision agriculture equipment, follow commodity markets, and communicate with their customers near and far. Broadband service also gives rural Americans access to important resources they may not otherwise have close at hand, from medical services to educational resources. In today’s world, the ability to connect online is not just a comfort, it is a necessity.

Luckily, the cry for broadband access in rural America has not been ignored. FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, supported by 61 U.S. senators, introduced a plan that would allow government subsidies to be allotted to broadband carriers who want to provide stand-alone Internet access to rural communities. Currently, the Universal Service Fund only provides support to rural carriers who supply telephone service, not stand-alone broadband access. Rural carriers are not able to invest in rural broadband access for their customers because funds are insufficient to implement the program. Commissioner Pai’s plan is designed to fix this issue and increase the availability of broadband access to rural communities.

In addition, President Barack Obama recently unveiled a pilot program, ConnectHome, designed to provide high-speed broadband access and digital services to more families at a lower cost. This program targets low-income families, which may include low-income rural families, and recognizes the need for universal coverage. 

Recognition of the need for increased broadband access is vital to economic growth and development, especially in rural communities across the nation. Current and future generations of rural Americans will be left behind their fellow citizens if they are without affordable, high-speed broadband service to tap into health care and educational services, government agencies and new business opportunities.

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