Written Remarks for Presentation to Murray County (MN) Farm Bureau, 27 July 2010
Just five years ago, most Americans accessed the internet on dial-up modems. Today, about 2/3 of the nation uses broadband service—high speed internet that lets you download and upload photos and video and use specialized applications as well as surfing the web.
As rural electric and telephone cooperatives lit up the countryside in the last century, new broadband infrastructure efforts are lighting up the future of rural America. USDA’s Economic Research Service explains the importance of these efforts this way:
“Infrastructure…connects rural America with the urban and global economies… Still, rural areas lag behind urban areas in Internet use, with 71 percent of rural residents versus 77 percent of urban residents using the Internet in 2007. Broadband was used by 36 percent of rural Internet users versus 54 percent of urban households in 2007. This urban-rural disparity may narrow somewhat in the future, but a gap will likely remain.”
Broadband infrastructure is being used to level the playing field in applications like:
- Online education
- eCommerce—purchase your inputs and sell your products online
- Social Media (You can follow Farm Bureau on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogs)
- “Lone Eagles”—professionals who can conduct business from anywhere and choose to live in Rural America
Communities without broadband infrastructure are at a fundamental disadvantage for economic development. It’s not just in town, but also a real need on the farm. The 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture found that about 2/3 of farms in the region, and in Murray County, were accessing the internet. Slightly more farms in Murray County reported high-speed internet access (49% vs. 45%) Both figures are higher than the state-wide average for farms.
The American Farm Bureau Federation has been working with Connected Nation, a non-profit organization, to help states create detailed maps of broadband coverage. Their local affiliate, Connect Minnesota, has received federal stimulus funds through USDA’s Rural Utilities Service to improve maps in rural Minnesota. [Refer to Map]
Southwest Regional Development Commission has been asked to participate in the Blandin Foundation’s Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) coalition. This project also received USDA funding through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). Basically, this project brings a network of resources to rural Minnesota.
- First is the Blandin Foundation’s Broadband Initiative, which has provided financial and technical support to rural communities across the state.
- The second resource I would mention is tangible, practical assistance to help get people online. PCs for People, for example, is a non-profit group that rehabs donated PCs and returns them to people with limited incomes. PCs for People will distribute at least 1,000 computers in rural Minnesota through this project. University of Minnesota Extension is also reaching out to rural businesses to help them use the internet to create new jobs.
As agricultural producers, this project may not directly affect broadband access at your farm. However, it is intended to benefit you in two direct ways.
- First, providing opportunities to create new jobs may help your kids, or even yourselves, stay in Rural Minnesota. More and more farm families have to have off-farm employment to survive, not to mention providing options for spouses.
- Second, creating additional demand for broadband will help providers offer the latest and greatest telecommunications services that you do directly need—from video cattle auctions to simple social media.
When we help each other out in rural Minnesota, everybody wins.