Farmers Bureau looks at broadband as a necessity, not a luxury

American Farm Bureau Federation  has a chat that focuses on rural broadband being a necessity, not a luxury. Here’s their high level description…

The American Connection Project’s goal is to bridge the rural digital divide. We discuss the importance of broadband access to rural America and the vital role it plays in supporting and sustaining those communities around the country with Patrick Garry, an American Connection Corps Fellow, and Bruce Tiffany, a Minnesota Farmer and Lead for Minnesota Board Member.

They talk about role of broadband in maintaining safety and stability especially on farms.

Community Conversation in Chisago County with Ben Winchester

Last week I attended a great session in Lindstrom Minnesota (Chicago County) where Ben Winchester was keynote. Here’s the official description of the event …

MN rural sociologist Ben Winchester presents his “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” keynote speech at Chisago Lakes Performing Arts Center in Lindstrom, MN. Prefaced by Chisago Lakes Chamber Exec Director Katie Malchow and her description of local Blandin Foundation grant programs, Ben leads the audience through a fascinating dose of rural reality, unveiling all the media and anecdotal misinformation that gives rural Minnesota a bad rap. Speech followed by a panel discussion with 3 local newcomers and what it’s like to move out to the Chisago Lakes area. Video by Jack Doepke, Chisago Lakes Public TV.

[at the speaker’s request, this video may be taken down in 30 days – so late April 2022]

Ben is always an engaging speaker. He has more statistics than Carter’s got pills, he’s on the frontlines and he is able to make connections clear. His mission last week seemed to be to remind attendees that rural areas are not dying. As he said, how can rural areas be dying and yet, it’s so hard to find a house to buy in a small town?

The rural/urban/suburban population numbers get skewed because once a town grows too much – it slips into a new category. So the biggish small town suddenly becomes suburban or metro.

Rural folks have to help change the narrative that rural is dying. Recognize that your town isn’t in the middle or nowhere – especially with broadband – you’re suddenly in the middle of everywhere. On tactic is to think regionally, not hyper-locally. Your hometown may include you’re the towns of your home, school, work and hobbies.

Ben’s talk is inspiration and it’s fun to hear from the panel of transplants to Chisago County too.

From no telehealth visits to 3,500 per day within weeks at Essentia (Baxter MN)

Duluth News Tribune reports on telehealth at local at Essentia in Baxter…

Prior to March 2020, Essentia reported it had never conducted a virtual visit. But in a robust response to the pandemic, the health care provider was performing more than 3,500 per day within weeks. Two years later, they had about 645,000 telehealth visits.

The article goes on to give a nice glimpse of what that looks like for different patients. For folks with substance use disorders, depression and anxiety…

Staff at Essentia Health’s clinic in Baxter, Minnesota, said they were initially working with their technology services to add telehealth for patients who had substance use disorders, depression and anxiety. The goal was to disrupt their lives as little as possible while working with them to improve their health and their lives.

Then the pandemic hit and those telehealth visits expanded exponentially as a way to reduce exposure to the virus. The Baxter facility went from two rooms for virtual visits to six in the family practice clinic. Patients across the board are able to schedule virtual visits, or video appointments, and speak directly to their doctor using computers, tablets or smartphones.

For Nutritionists …

Nutritionists could see what people had to work with at home. Those who were working from home, with children at home or other family to care for, could still connect for a needed appointment. Older residents didn’t have to make the trip or feel they had to find someone to take them to an appointment. Those who may have had trouble getting time off from work could still do a check-in and consult with their primary care provider.

Senator Smith Introduces Bill to Increase Rural Broadband Access

Fox21 reports

Minnesota Senator Tina Smith is continuing her push to make high speed internet access available to everyone.

She joined three other Senators in introducing a bipartisan bill this month that would focus Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program funds to communities in greatest need to establish broadband services.

“The federal government is investing billions of dollars in expanding broadband,” says Senator Smith.  “Working with local communities and local telecoms, and we want to make sure that those dollars are being coordinated and getting out where they need to go as best as possible.  And honestly that is not happening right now.  This is something we have to work on, and that’s a big part of what I want to get accomplished.”

Smith says thousands across the state would see an improvement to their everyday lives, allowing them to work and attend school from home, and compares this effort to rural electrification done a century ago.

“We said every American needs to be able to turn the lights on and have electric power,” says Senator Smith, “and the same is true today when it comes to broadband access.”

The bill also focuses on preventing federal funds from overbuilding the broadband network as new lines and hotspots are established.

Broadband funding makes MinnPost top rural issues list

MinnPost reports

Looking back, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of some of the most memorable developments in Greater Minnesota in 2021.

Broadband makes the list…

3. Cash came rolling in for child care and broadband

Between state COVID-19 relief money, the $1.9 trillion federal American Rescue Plan stimulus package and a $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package signed by President Joe Biden, a lot of government money has flowed this year to help with issues caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including for things like hospital capacity and rent assistance.
While many things critical to Greater Minnesota have received money over the last year, broadband infrastructure and child care are among two of the more important. Minnesota stands to get at least $170 million for subsidizing construction of broadband infrastructure from Minnesota’s share of the ARP and the federal infrastructure bill. That would be more money than the state spent since 2014 in its own broadband grant program. The state could potentially be in line for $280 million or more for high-speed internet.

Survey of Rural Broadband providers show half of collective customer base can get Gig service

The Rural Broadband Association (NTCA) surveys their members (850 rural rate-of-return regulated telecommunications providers in 44 states) annually. You can learn a lot from the results. I was focused on recognizing how many independent rural telcos have grown into full service FTTH providers. Especially as the MN Broadband Task Force looks at how to get better broadband to the far corners of the state, this survey is a reminder that is can be done. That lots of providers are doing this – we just need to support the ones that are making the connections for the future!

For example, it’s great to see the download and upload speed averages. More than half of the customers can get gig access down or up; while less than 4 percent are stuck with 10 Mbps down and less than 9 percent stuck with 3 Mbps up. A critical mass is being reached, which means we can start to set expectations higher.

With respect to downstream service availability, on average, respondents reported that the following percentages of their customer base can receive maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 55.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 20.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 25 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 10.6%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 25 Mbps: 10.1%
  • Less than 10 Mbps: 3.7%

With respect to upstream service availability, respondents indicated the following percentages of their customer base can receive, on average, maximum speeds of:

  • Greater than/equal to 1 Gig: 52.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 100 Mbps but less than 1 Gig: 21.3%
  • Greater than/equal to 20 Mbps but less than 100 Mbps: 6.4%
  • Greater than/equal to 10 Mbps but less than 20 Mbps: 5.2%
  • Greater than/equal to 3 Mbps but less than 10 Mbps: 6.2%
  • Less than 3 Mbps: 8.5%

So the next question is – how can we help the providers that want to extend fiber? As the graphic below indicates, cost is still the major barrier and the public sector is poised to help dole out unprecedented funds in the upcoming years.

The next step is looking at adoption to ensure that demand will meet growing supplies…

When your grandma lives in a rural community and the power goes out

Some of you will know this story – or one very similar well – if you do, you should take a minute to tell your story to someone who can make a difference. Like your local representative, senator or county commissioner. This story is a wake-up or reminder for folks who don’t spend time in rural areas or worrying about loved ones in rural areas.

My friend’s grandma lives in rural Wisconsin. For folks outside of the Midwest – we’ve had had some weather this week: 50+ degrees on Wednesday (in MN in December!), 12 degrees the next morning with a couple of tornadoes in between. So grandma’s power is out. And so is her phone. I point out that if she has DSL that the phone needs electricity and won’t work. (We want to make sure it’s a tech issue not a billing issue.) The provider is a telephone company. So I figure it’s DSL. Nope, actually grandma doesn’t have internet access at all.

The power is back on, according to the electric company but my friend still can’t get through by phone. Only getting the busy signal. My friend will spend the day trying to get some tech out there or seeing if she can reach a neighbor or calling a high school friend to check on her grandma.

I suggested that maybe grandma should get a prepaid cell phone (burner phone) for Christmas. Well, that won’t work because there’s no cell coverage where she lives.

That’s a glimpse of communications – broadband, internet, phone, whatever – as lifeline. Something I forget from my home in St Paul. Something I hope we all remember when we’re spending down the federal dollars for infrastructure – let’s invest in these areas and invest in a way that doesn’t leave grandmas a generation behind the times in five to ten years and something that doesn’t leave grandmas out in the cold when the weather gets bad.

USDA specific funds for Tribal and Rural communities

Public Knowledge reports

Last week the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) announced more than $1 billion in funding to promote meaningful broadband access in rural, Tribal, and socially vulnerable communities. This program has the potential to deliver robust, affordable broadband to rural and Tribal communities that is essential to their civic, economic, and educational livelihoods. The program will offer eligible recipients a mix of grants, grants and loans combined, and just loans to deploy truly robust broadband networks (capable of 100/100 Mbps upload/download broadband speeds) to eligible communities. Much of what is in the ReConnect program is consistent with Public Knowledge’s advocacy on the infrastructure bill pending before Congress, so we are excited to see the USDA’s RUS step up to deliver meaningful broadband access to rural and tribal communities.

What do we love about this program? There is a lot to love here. Specifically, in order to ensure that our most vulnerable communities, including Tribal areas, are able to benefit from this opportunity, the RUS has set aside $350 million in grant funding for Tribal governments and “socially vulnerable communities” to build 100/100 Mbps networks to their communities.

The scoring is particularly interesting…

Moreover, Public Knowledge is very excited about the evaluation criteria that will be used to award funding. Projects will be ranked and awarded funding based on criteria that includes points for addressing affordability (20 points), serving higher poverty areas (20 points), committing to net neutrality (10 points), and offering wholesale broadband service (10 points).

Even food needs better broadband – well farmers need to growing food efficiently and sustainably

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has just released an important look at The Future of American Farming Demands Broadband. They start by making the case that farmers need broadband is to be more efficient and the environment needs it to support sustainability. I suspect most readers here understand (or live) that, so I’ll cut to some of the answers they provide based on various facets of farming…

The Farm Office
How do we ensure that farmers get reliable, symmetrical broadband service?

● Establish future-proof performance standards: To meet the growing demand among farmers for both upstream and downstream speeds, networks must be capable of 100/100 Mbps service.

● Clarify rules around easements and rights of way: State governments can address legal uncertainty around easements and rights of way, which can slow deployment and increase costs, particularly for electric cooperatives.

Incentivize build-out to the operations center: Broadband funding programs can reward applicants that deploy broadband to the operations center of the farm and other critical farm buildings.

● Support open-access, middle-mile networks: Middle-mile deployment can pack a powerful punch by bringing scalable, fiber-based connections deep into rural communities while also lowering the cost of last-mile deployment for private providers.

The Field
How can we address the special connectivity demands of farms?
● Adopt high-performance standards: Performance standards for upload speeds and latency should reflect the changing needs of farmers for precision agriculture.
● Encourage deep fiber build-out: Fiber build-out in rural America, even if not directly to the farm, will be needed to support capable wireless connections for higher-bandwidth applications in the field.
● Address gaps in mapping on farmland: Broadband maps should include mobile coverage on agricultural lands. The underlying data that informs these maps must be available to the public.
● Advocate for interoperability and privacy standards: Without better coordination about interoperability and privacy standards, farmers may be less willing to adopt precision agriculture technologies.
● Adjust spectrum award mechanisms to reward farmland coverage: Spectrum auctions can adopt geographic coverage requirements in some rural agricultural areas to encourage deployment on farmland.

The Community
How do we connect the communities that farms rely upon?
● Adopt comprehensive state broadband plans: State plans that encompass all aspects of a broadband strategy—including deployment, competition, and digital equity—are best suited to meeting states’ regional economic development and other goals.
● Support digital equity programs at the state and local levels: Digital equity programs led by state and local governments and backed by federal funding can work with communities to help people make full use of broadband connections.
● Encourage local planning and capacity building: Federal and state funding can encourage local planning and capacity building, which may include developing local or regional broadband strategies and applying for federal broadband grants.
● Implement accountability measures: Federal funding programs for broadband deployment that include strong accountability measures ensure that providers hit their deployment goals.
● Encourage local, community-oriented providers: Federal programs that support broadband can encourage entry from more broadband providers, including cooperative and community[1]based solutions.
● Facilitate federal, tribal, state, and local coordination: All levels of government should work together as partners to create opportunities for collaboration.
● Coordinate efforts of federal agencies: A coordinated effort between federal agencies will allow those agencies to synergize their respective expertise and meet the distinct needs of farmers.

I appreciate the collection of statistics and the frontline stories that give a clear picture of what life is like for farmers in rural America. Each town, farm and person’s perspective may be different based on where they are, what they are doing and even season or time of day but it’s very likely that whatever they are experiencing is different that what folks in urban areas experience. Through examples, theygive some quick lessons on fixed-wireless (pg 9), middle mile (pg 11), cooperatives (pg 12), Starlink (pg 14) and more.

They even give a nice nod to what’s happening in Minnesota and Blandin’s role in the success…

Public and private leadership working in tandem in Minnesota
One of the earliest state grant programs, Minnesota’s Border-to[1]Border Broadband Development Grant Program, was created in 2014 to assist localities, private providers, nonprofits, and cooperatives in building out broadband infrastructure in Greater Minnesota. The program funds up to 50 percent of the cost of a last-mile or middle[1]mile broadband project, including planning, permitting, construction, and installation costs. Since its inception, Border-to-Border has connected more than 56,000 homes, businesses, and anchor institutions to broadband. The eventual goal of the program is universal, “border-to[1]border” broadband coverage across Minnesota. The state plans to achieve universal 25/3 Mbps coverage by the end of 2022 and universal 100/20 Mbps coverage by the end of 2026.

Working in tandem with state broadband efforts, the Blandin Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to building healthy, inclusive rural communities in Minnesota, has partnered with dozens of rural communities to help them get and use better broadband. Participating communities work through a proven process to define their technology goals and measure current levels of broadband access and use. They receive technical assistance and grant funding to implement projects that help close the digital divide and take advantage of the extraordinary benefits of a broadband-enabled economy.

Communities that have participated in the Blandin Broadband Communities program have earned themselves a seat at the table of broadband planning. Having done the work of assessing what they have, what they want, and what they are willing to contribute to a possible project, they have a voice in what broadband solution is “good enough” for their communities.

Nearly half of the network feasibility studies commissioned by Blandin community partners and funded by the foundation have been either fully or partially built. Participating communities have dramatically increased the presence of free, publicly available internet access in libraries, public parks, downtown areas, and township halls, and have distributed more than 2,300 refurbished computers to income[1]qualifying residents in participating rural communities across Minnesota. Communities also have implemented a variety of digital literacy programs for local residents and businesses. They have spurred more sophisticated use of technology through education, training, community events, learning circles, and innovative partnerships—a total of 292 projects that address community technology goals.
Local governments and other entities across the state have endorsed and adopted Minnesota’s Broadband Vision, first articulated at a 2015 Blandin Broadband conference: “Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable, world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.” This vision inspired the creation of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, which unites dozens of broadband champions from across the state to sustain broad, bipartisan support for Minnesota’s broadband grant program.
Blandin’s work in Minnesota illustrates the benefits of public and private leadership working in tandem. Investing in the capacity of communities to name and claim their own broadband vision helps to maximize public benefit from public investments such as state grant programs.

Should content providers chip in for broadband networks?

GNC reports on a report from Roslyn Layton on getting content providers to help chip in for broadband networks…

Roslyn Layton, a vice president at Strand Consult, researched four rural broadband providers and found that 75% of downstream network traffic comes from five companies: Amazon Prime, Disney+/Hulu, Microsoft Xbox, Netflix and YouTube, according to her report, “Middle Mile Economics: How streaming video entertainment undermines the business model for broadband.” The traffic from those companies drives about 90% of the net new network costs for the four rural providers.

The remaining 25% of traffic is what she terms “socially valuable” because it comes from sources such as government entities, public safety, education, health care and news sources. They account for about 10% of the network costs.

The author offers some options…

In the paper Layton presents several policy solutions. “The easiest things to do would be for the streamers to recognize that they have to contribute,” Layton said. Fees would be based on agreed thresholds and could reflect periods of peak usage — a tactic she likened to the postage Netflix used to pay to the U.S. Postal Service for mailing DVDs.

Another way to go about this is to incorporate the streaming companies into FCC’s Universal Service Fund by levying a tax on them. Created by the Communications Act of 1934 and expanded by the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to include the internet, the fund seeks to ensure that everyone has access to communications, which is paid for by contributions from telecommunications providers – a percentage of their end-user revenues. Or, Layton said, FCC could calculate an amount that internet companies must pay per terabyte of data they send into the middle mile.

Another solution is to charge end users. The problem with that, she said, is that two-third of Americans who subscribe to the internet are watching movies, but one-third isn’t, so those who aren’t streaming entertainment end up paying more for services than they should. “It’s a little bit unfair,” Layton said.

A final option is taxes. The report cites a December 2020 proposal from the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society that suggests using federal and state funding to build government-owned networks that are leased to private providers under the term “Open Access Middle Mile.”

People are ready for Starlink to be great but they don’t really know

PCMag interviewed 1,041 adults about Starlink and found that people liked more than they knew…

Regardless, among the survey respondents who said they were familiar with Starlink, the obsession remains. When we asked that group whether they’d switch to the satellite ISP if or when it was available in their area, 76% said they were likely to; 40% said very likely.

That sentiment is probably informed not so much by the quality of Starlink’s service but more by how deeply people hate their current fixed-wired ISPs. Our follow-up questions showed that the majority of people agree with statements that Starlink is faster and more reliable (meaning fewer interruptions) than nationwide ISPs such as Comcast Xfinity, Verizon Fios, and Charter’s Spectrum. Sure, Starlink is faster than any satellite competitor, but it’s nowhere near faster than a cable or fiber connection today. Starlink does have the lofty goal of 10-gigabits-per-second downloads. Along with the service’s reliability, that remain to be seen.

For remote locations that are essentially disenfranchised by the major ISPs, though, any decent speed is transformative. One thing at least some of the survey respondents got right is agreeing with the statement that Starlink internet is more for rural users than city users. In fact, Starlink’s getting millions from the FCC to improve broadband in rural areas. We researched which US counties need it the most.

I’ve seen this in other places too. Especially for a report I’m hoping to share at the Blandin Broadband Conference. Rural residents are very frustrated with their existing options and they are primed to love something new. We just need to keep a balance on whether the shiny new solution meets the needs of today and tomorrow before we invest too much hope in it.

A look at broadband needs in rural MN: Walnut Grove, Redwood County and Pine County

MN Public Radio takes a look at broadband on the frontlines in rural Minnesota. In Walnut Grove…

The 31-year-old crop insurance adjuster works on a computer set up in his living room, but sometimes he has to travel to the library in a neighboring town for a steady internet connection. Other times, he uses a mobile hot spot. He gets by, Malmberg said, and others he knows, work with less.

“Up until four years ago, I think, my parents had dial-up,” he said. “They basically have dial-up still. They have 3.5 megabits per second is their [download] speed. No Netflix, no Amazon Prime. Only email, and the occasional YouTube video.”

In Redwood County…

“Internet is now as necessary as electricity and water,” said Briana Mumme, Redwood County economic development coordinator. “I mean, like these are just part of how we do life. You just have to have access to it.”

About 90 percent of households have a computer statewide, according to the Blandin Foundation, and 81 percent have a laptop; 76 percent have a smartphone and 59 percent have a tablet. But, there are many areas in Minnesota, Mumme said, where access to high-speed internet is limited and working remotely and distance learning have run into problems, which was the case for one college student she knows who moved back home during the pandemic.

“In order for him to attend school, he literally had to drive to his grandparents house, back into town where the bandwidth was bigger or more robust,” she said. “So he could actually do school.”

In Pine County…

Other rural counties are also competing for better broadband and have seen the shift in how their communities are viewing the necessity for it. Lezlie Sauter, Pine County economic development coordinator, said COVID-19 revealed a lot of disparities where better internet access was needed in northern Minnesota.

“I think that the pandemic opened up our eyes to, ‘we have to be able to pivot and do work online,’ ” Sauter said. “I don’t think our community was prepared for it. I think some people were, but most of us viewed the internet and broadband as a luxury and it’s something we use to stream video and Netflix and all those things. But, we did not see how important it would be to keep conducting business.”

Wisconsin looks at failed history of federal funding for broadband

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel does a nice job detailing the illustrious history of federal funding for broadband over the past few Administrations. The title of the article says it all…

With poor data, deficient requirements and little oversight, massive public spending still hasn’t solved the rural internet access problem

There isn’t a lot new in the summary but it’s a good and succinct account, starting with the stories of people who have been waiting for decades for the federal funds to trickle down to deploy broadband to their homes and including lots of good details, facts and figures. They boil the issue to a few high level points: inadequate mapping of the problem and minimal requirements and even less administration.

The need…

The Federal Communications Commission has said that nationwide around 14 million people lack access to broadband, also known as high-speed internet. However, the firm Broadband Now, which helps consumers find service, estimates it’s closer to 42 million. And although Microsoft Corp. doesn’t have the ability to measure everyone’s actual internet connection, the tech giant says approximately 120 million Americans aren’t using the internet at true broadband speeds of at least 25-megabit-per-second downloads and 3 Mbps uploads — a further indication of how many people have been left behind.

The attempts so far…

None of the efforts under any of the administrations succeeded, and some of the reasons were fairly straightforward. The data on who has broadband  — and who doesn’t  — has been flawed. Some of the upgrades quickly became obsolete. There’s been limited accountability.

“We have given away $40 billion in the last 10 years … and haven’t solved the problem,” said Tom Wheeler, who was FCC chairman in Obama’s administration. “I always thought the definition of insanity was doing things the same way over and over and believing that, somehow, something will change.”

And so the digital divide, which some say has become a chasm, remains.

And the funders having little to say about who gets service…

Under the Connect America Fund requirements, grant recipients had a great deal of latitude in where they deployed upgrades. They were allowed, for example, to bypass thinly populated sections of rural counties and make up the difference in other CAF II-eligible areas that had more customers.

It’s really hurt places like Price County, according to Hallstrand, who says the government subsidies should be used to cover the areas most in need of better service before the money’s spent in other places.

“That’s how rural America gets broadband,” he said.

In one rural Wisconsin county after another, Connect America Fund II has left a trail of skepticism and frustration. Many communities have initiated their own broadband expansion projects, seeking state grants and local partnerships, because they haven’t seen much help from the federal government and big-name service providers.

Mankato Free Press on rural wins in Legislature

Mankato Free Press outlines the impacts of 2021 Legislative session on rural Minnesota…

Outstate Minnesota was not forgotten in the final decisions of the Minnesota Legislature as investments will flow into child care, broadband, meat packing and some regulations will be eased for farmers.

The specifics on broadband…

Broadband efforts also found widespread bipartisan support as the Legislature approved some $70 million in broadband funding for projects over the next two years. While that is only moderately higher than the last two years and the needs are said to be near $200 million, the initial funding will likely be followed with years of higher funding as federal COVID funds come through the pipeline.

Significant areas of outstate Minnesota have no or very poor broadband coverage making running a business difficult and leaving some school kids going to McDonald’s to connect to Wi-Fi.

White House says Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework invests $65 billion

The White House reports

Today, despite the fact that rural and Tribal communities across the country are asset-rich, they make up a disproportionate number of persistent poverty communities. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework invests in rural and Tribal communities, creating jobs in rural America and wealth that stays in rural America. The Framework delivers 100% broadband coverage, rebuilds crumbling infrastructure like roads and bridges, eliminates lead pipes and service lines, builds resilience to climate change and extreme weather events, and puts Americans to work cleaning up pollution that has impacted fossil fuel communities in rural America.

In addition to being the largest-long term investment in our infrastructure in nearly a century – four times the infrastructure investment in the 2009 Recovery Act – the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is a generational investment in rural America.

Here’s what they say about broadband…

Provide high speed internet to every home. More than 35 percent of rural Americans and Tribal communities lack wired access to broadband at acceptable speeds. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework invests $65 billion, including through USDA rural broadband programs, to make high-speed internet available to all Americans, bring down high-speed internet prices across the board, and provide technical assistance to communities seeking to expand broadband. With the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, the Federal government made a historic investment in bringing electricity to nearly every home and farm in America, and millions of families and our economy reaped the benefits. Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to accelerate precision agriculture, to participate equally in school learning and health care, and to stay connected.