The following opinion piece was written by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue
Access to the internet is critical for life in the 21st century, not something that is simply nice to have. To ensure our rural communities have quality health care, college-level math classes at the county high school, or precision ag technology at the local farm, high-speed broadband internet connectivity is necessary.
When I first took office, President Donald J. Trump directed me to lead the Rural Prosperity Task Force, a team of federal, state and local leaders focused on improving the lives of those who live in rural America. The task force’s top takeaway was how critical access to broadband is in rural communities.
I always say, investing in the expansion of rural broadband is as vital as the rural electric and telephone networks were decades ago. It’s time to reignite a passion for connectivity and work to bring broadband to every small town and piece of farm land across our nation.
Our core mission at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to increase rural prosperity by boosting economic opportunity in rural America. We know that rural communities need robust modern infrastructure to thrive. Of the 21 million Americans that lack high-speed broadband internet access, 80% are in rural areas and on tribal lands.
The modern economy is rooted in access to the internet. We cannot leave behind those who live in rural America. When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket. This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his administration.
Americans in rural communities, like some of the farmers and ranchers in Orangeburg County, South Carolina, are often prevented from accessing new technology simply because they do not have a reliable internet connection. Rural businesses in Orangeburg County are prevented from accessing new markets through e-commerce.
For children living in the small towns of rural South Carolina, the lack of access means some kids are doing their homework out of a fast-food chain parking lot – or not at all. That’s what is so important about President Trump’s initiative to expand access to broadband.
We started accepting applications in April 2019 for the new ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program and there was an overwhelming response. In just three months, USDA received 146 applications requesting more than $1.4 billion. That’s double the amount we have available for this first round of funding to connect more than 2,750 farms and 2,575 rural businesses to this critical infrastructure.
The first round of recipients includes Orangeburg County, which will be responsible for connecting 3,911 households, 13 educational facilities, nine critical community facilities and a health care center. As we continue to announce the first round of recipients, USDA will look for ways we can be better partners to community leaders, just like Orangeburg County, in rural communities across the country.
The success of small businesses and the local economy in rural America is dependent on access to broadband. Any small business can become a global player through e-commerce. This is only possible if they have access to broadband.
Technological breakthroughs are radically transforming farming practices around the world. Precision agriculture and data-management innovations like blockchain will allow a family farm to track produce from the farm to a table on the other side of the world. That also has significant implications for food security and quickly isolating incidents of food contamination. When Americans are given the right tools and a chance to succeed, we all prosper.
In today’s information-driven global economy, broadband connectivity is not a luxury. Broadband is essential for education, health care, communication, banking, entertainment and, of course, agriculture. USDA will continue to work at the direction of President Trump to ensure that no community is left behind and that all Americans gain access to broadband connectivity.
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