“You are not connected to the Internet.” It’s a frustrating message to anyone, and sadly, it’s a message that many of us in rural America have grown accustomed to. A Broadband Now study found that 42 million Americans, mostly in rural areas, do not have high-speed internet access. As schools, businesses, and government services continue to move online, broadband access isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity.
I always knew that the internet on my farm in Georgia was a bit slow. But when the pandemic started and I had to temporarily do my job at the home farm office, I realized how unreliable it was. I had to try different places in my house to see if I could get a good signal. When I find one, it may not be good for long, or the internet speed may be too slow. I had to go to the offices of the agricultural bureau in the neighboring county when I attended Zoom meetings with government officials, so I knew I would have reliable internet throughout the meeting.
As technology on the farm continues to advance, a fast and reliable internet connection is more important than ever.
Millions of Americans in rural communities have faced the same or worse struggles. When the pandemic forced schools to close and people to work from home, the digital divide widened further. Some people I’ve heard of had to travel over 30 miles to find a parking lot where they could access the internet for school or a Zoom meeting. Earlier this year, the American Farm Bureau joined Land O ‘Lakes and 18 other organizations to form the American Connection Corps. This project aims to empower young people to settle in rural areas and carry out projects aimed at expanding broadband access. We cannot expect people to move to rural areas if they cannot be connected to loved ones, schools or work through the internet. Last year, the Kentucky Farm Bureau began providing free Wi-Fi in nearly 200 locations across the state to help bring communities online. While our Farm Bureau family takes pride in caring for each other, this shouldn’t be happening.
In 2019, the Texas legislature passed a bill to create the Broadband Development Council. One of the board members was Texas Farm Bureau member and cattle breeder Lindsey Lee. Like many rural Americans, she experienced the unreliable Internet. When the pandemic closed the real estate office she works in off the farm, Lindsey struggled to do her job because she couldn’t connect to the internet. She told the Texas Farm Bureau, “We were all trying to work from home, but I spent more time in the office than my colleagues because my internet access is so terrible.
Arizona Farm Bureau member Reed Flake explained that as his family were all coming home during the pandemic, they needed to coordinate who should be online and when. The bandwidth available at their home was not large enough for all family members to do their homework and attend college meetings and classes at the same time. Not far from Reed, Arizona Farm Bureau member Hayley Andrus said her veterinary practice pays a lot for satellite internet access. Even this is slow, and something as common as a strong wind can interrupt service. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to update health documents and access the latest scientific knowledge in veterinary medicine.
As technology on the farm continues to advance, a fast and reliable internet connection is more important than ever. Whether it’s mapping a field, tracking markets, or updating software on equipment, farmers and ranchers need the internet to stay competitive and implement climate-smart practices. .
As Congress and the administration continue to work on a bipartisan infrastructure plan, we are pleased to see that the bill passed by the Senate included a $ 65 billion investment in broadband expansion. While this is a good step, we need Congress to finalize this deal and maintain the broadband investment passed by the Senate. Then the administration must act quickly to ensure that these funds are used efficiently.
The internet can connect us with others across the country to share best practices, explore new innovative technologies, conduct business, learn new skills and stay in touch with family. Expanding broadband access will help our rural businesses grow and stay competitive. It will help our children learn and help farmers and ranchers to implement new technologies on their farms that improve sustainability. With all the benefits that reliable broadband access can bring, investing in this expansion is not only an investment in critical infrastructure, but also an investment in the future of rural America.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Ga., Is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.