FERGUS FALLS, Minn., Dec. 21, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- "The lack of reliable internet service in rural America is strangling its economy," says Jeff Smedsrud, CEO of public policy organization Communicating for America (CA).
"The Farm Bill signed by President Trump on Dec. 20 adds precious investment into solving the problem, but we should consider it a down payment in rescuing the rural economy," Smedsrud said.
Roughly 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just four percent of urban Americans, according to a recent Federal Communications Commission report.
A small portion -- $350 million -- of the $867 billion new Farm Bill expands the U.S. Department of Agriculture's loan and grant program for deploying rural broadband service. This funding is in addition to USDA's $600 million broadband loan/grant program included in the Congressional omnibus budget passed in March. In mid-December, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities may apply for funding from the $600 million pool to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. The funding will be distributed through USDA's Rural Utilities Service (RUS).
"We appreciate that the Congress and the Administration are accelerating their investment, but we will lose opportunities for jobs, telecommuting, tele-medicine and education in rural areas unless we work harder to close this digital divide," Smedsrud said.
"The farm economy has been in a major recession, coupled with a lack of economic development opportunity because of inadequate internet service. Together, that puts a choke-hold on the rural economy and the standard of living for rural residents," he said.
Further, Smedsrud said, a weakened rural health care system needs high-speed broadband to provide basic health services to the rural population.
"There is no time to waste. The opportunity to communicate digitally has become a fundamental human right in American society. Our country cannot afford to allow 39 percent of our rural citizens to be deprived of service simply as a function of where they live," concluded Smedsrud.
CA, a membership organization with agricultural roots, advocates for rural people and their rights for economic justice.
About Communicating for America
Communicating for America, Inc. (CA) is a nationwide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that represents about 100,000 small businesses, self-employed and agricultural members across America. Since 1972 CA has been working on small business, tax, healthcare and agricultural policy issues on behalf of its members. For more information visit www.communicatingforamerica.org.
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SOURCE Communicating for America