New Plan Would Improve Internet Service in Rural Areas

Farmers and rural residents without high-speed Internet access are quickly being left behind in this digital age.

Seventeen percent of Americans lack access to advanced broadband service, and the majority of them live in rural areas, according to the Federal Communications Commission. A full 53 percent of rural Americans lack access to service reaching the broadband benchmark speed set by the FCC. By comparison, only 8 percent of urban Americans lack access to the same service.

“So much of our rural areas are without access to dependable Internet services which, in today’s business environment, are crucial,” said Andrew Smith, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation senior assistant director of governmental relations. “That’s why Virginia Farm Bureau supports efforts to improve broadband access to all Virginians.”

Americans rely on farmers and ranchers to produce food for a rapidly growing population, and technology that can help them grow more with less is readily available. But without broadband access, farmers may not be able to take advantage of it.

“Often, many forget that our farms are businesses in rural areas that require the same infrastructure as those based in metropolitan areas,” Smith said. “Farmers need the Internet to run and market their operations.”

Farmers and other rural Virginians also stand to benefit from educational and medical resources that broadband service can provide, Smith added.

VFBF and the American Farm Bureau Federation are lauding a plan that would allow government subsidies for broadband carriers that provide stand-alone Internet access to rural communities. The legislation was proposed by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and is supported by 61 U.S. senators.

Currently, the FCC’s Universal Service Fund provides support only to rural carriers that supply telephone service. Rural telephone carriers are not investing in broadband access for their customers because of insufficient funding, but Pai’s plan is intended to remedy that.

Additionally, President Obama recently unveiled a pilot program called ConnectHome that would provide high-speed broadband access and digital services to more families at a lower cost. The program targets low-income families in both urban and rural areas.

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