Agri-Pluse is publishing a series of articles – “The seven things you should know before you write the next farm bill.” Last week their article on Rural Development touched on the importance of broadband – using a Minnesota example…
Bob Fox, a Minnesota farmer and Renville County commissioner says that businesses looking to plant roots in a rural community often ask about the quality of roads first and the speed of broadband, second.
“It just makes a world of difference in what you can do as a business person with that broadband speed,” he told Agri-Pulse. “We have to find a way to get broadband across all of the United States.”
A study conducted for Cornell University’s Community and Regional Development Institute underscores his point. It found that rural counties with the highest levels of broadband have the highest levels of income and education and lower levels of unemployment and poverty.
But according to the most recent Broadband Progress Report, 34 million Americans still lack access to broadband benchmark speeds. This baseline map (below) visualizes broadband access at the county level and identifies connectivity gaps — the lighter the color, the lower the percentage of households with broadband access.
They recognize that reaching those 34 million is tough work…
Building out high-speed broadband in rural areas is not easy or cheap, as Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications, pointed out during a recent Senate Agriculture Committee field hearing.
Pioneer is a local telecommunications provider located in southwestern Kansas, serving a 5,000 square mile area – roughly the size of Connecticut but with over three million fewer people than that state.
“We provide 21,000 total connections to wireline voice, high-speed broadband and video services over a network that utilizes a mix of fiber, copper and coax facilities,” Moyer testified. “On average, we have just over two subscribers per square mile. However, when considering that 81 percent of our customers live in our small population centers, the “density” of our rural subscribers per square mile drops to just under 0.5.
“Put another way, 81 percent of our customers reside in approximately 15 square miles, while the remaining 19 percent reside in the other 4,985 square miles.
One might ask why we serve these areas, she noted in her testimony. “We are the provider of last resort –in addition to legal obligations to serve these consumers and businesses who were left behind long ago when larger companies picked first where to serve. If Pioneer does not provide them now with service, there is no one else available to do so.”
They also recognize that broadband is one facet of rural development. There are many. Agri Pulse seems to be suggesting a united front for building better awareness…
While a wide array of Rural Development programs can offer many options for helping keep farmers on the land and rural businesses growing, this part of the farm bill is often not considered to be a high priority for national farm organizations. For commodity groups, it’s usually something that surfaces after the commodity, crop insurance, and conservation titles.
And even among its most stalwart advocates, congressional staff say that support for RD is often splintered in respective silos. For example, rural water advocates do a great job lobbying for water programs and the same is true with the rural electric cooperatives, advocating for low-interest loans. And organizations like NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association have been actively promoting expansion of broadband.
But during the last farm bill debate, rural advocates say there was not a strong enough coalition of all rural and farm groups “beating the drum” for a more comprehensive approach to job creation in rural areas.