USDA reports on connecting rural America with 21st century Internet service

By Jon H. Harsch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, June 9 – Releasing a USDA report Wednesday on rural broadband, Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack said expanding rural Internet service is “rebuilding and revitalizing the rural economy.”

USDA’s Rural Utilities Service report on “Connecting Rural America” shows that the first $1.1 billion spent on 68 broadband projects in 31 states and one territory “will bring broadband service to an estimated 529,249 households, 92,754 businesses and 3,332 anchor institutions across more than 172,000 square miles.” A second round boosting USDA’s Recovery & Reinvestment Act broadband spending to $2.5 billion, Vilsack said, should provide Internet service to “1.2 million households, 230,000 businesses, and 7,800 anchor institutions, creating job opportunities now and into the future.”

Vilsack said that along with helping rural businesses grow and improving rural life through healthcare, education and emergency services, rural broadband will give farmers and ranchers “up-to-the minute commodity and weather information that will allow them to make the very best decisions for their operations.”

Thanks to Recovery & Reinvestment Act awards reducing the capitol costs of installing broadband equipment, Vilsack said, rural subscribers can expect not only high-speed service even in remote areas but also more reasonable subscriber rates. He said that as access is extended to more of the 14 million Americas without Internet access and improved to current rural subscribers, “there should be greater customer satisfaction,” leading to spreading costs over a larger customer base “which should help lower the overall cost to subscribers.”

Vilsack concluded that “one of the key components to revitalizing the rural economy and making economic opportunity more expansive . . . is to have access to 21st century infrastructure.”

In the report itself, Rural Utilities Service Administrator Jonathan Adelstein writes that:

  • “Broadband is often the key factor that can level the economic playing field. It provides rural businesses access to national and international markets. And it allows new, small, and home-based businesses to thrive. Broadband makes rural areas competitive.
  • “The programs we are putting in place – renewable energy, local and regional food systems, regional collaboration, and investment in broadband – are key components of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s focus on rebuilding and revitalizing economic growth in rural America.
  • “Broadband provides connectivity for efficient delivery of not just those programs, but for access to many goods and services needed by rural residents, including healthcare, education, and financial services. These will not only benefit rural areas but will enhance our overall economic growth nationwide.”

As an example of what the USDA broadband initiative is accomplishing, the report points to one project in Iowa:

“Eastlight, LLC, a small business, will implement a wireless project to bring broadband to 144,000 rural residents in 111 communities in Iowa. These communities are separated by 5 to 10 miles of rolling farm land populated by farms whose houses are spaced typically 0.5 to 1 mile apart. More than 32,000 businesses will be served, including nearly 11,500 farms. There are over 370 public institutions, including town and village halls, police departments, volunteer and community-funded fire departments, Emergency Medical Services and local healthcare centers, child care centers and preschools, and libraries, many of which are unserved or underserved with broadband service. Interest from community leaders in the service area is high. Eastlight anticipates providing ongoing broadband service to 64 critical anchor and other public support entities for free or at nominal cost.”

To read USDA’s 36-page “Connecting Rural America” report on Round One awards in the federal Broadband Initiatives program, go to:

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