Despite the importance of rural areas to the vitality of the whole country, rural communities have generally been left behind
The digital divide is an issue that has plagued policy makers for decades. The federal communications commission estimates that 18 million Americans lack high speed internet access although another analysis suggests it might be as high as 42 million. Lack of connectivity is particularly acute in rural areas with one-quarter of rural Americans living without access to broadband and 1 in 5 rural businesses only using basic digital tools. With COVID-19 moving so many business, educational and social engagements online, the essential nature of internet access has become apparent. The effect of this trend on agriculture is considerable -- the USDA estimates that 25% of farms have no internet access.
Universal broadband is essential for the future of our food system as well as for the growth and equity of our economy in general. For rural communities, the returns on investment in broadband infrastructure would be considerable even just through the more widespread use of precision agriculture tools. According to research by BroadbandNow, expanding broadband services to rural areas would generate $65 billion annually through increased crop yields for farmers. Which is why we are part of the American Connection Project, an initiative spearheaded by Land O’Lakes to foster long term digital inclusion in support of thriving rural communities. The American Connection Project Policy Coalition currently consists of over 100 companies and organizations across finance, healthcare, food production and more. The objectives are threefold: To raise awareness about the critical nature of connectivity, advocate for meaningful policy reform and investment, and take action to provide connectivity options. Land O’Lakes, with support from the coalition, has installed more than 2,800 free, public Wi-Fi locations in communities across 49 states. Land O’Lakes is also launching the American Connection Corps to recruit college graduates to go back to their hometowns and work with local institutions to roll out broadband, and familiarize residents with the technology.
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