50 organizations launch coalition to close digital divide

National farmer-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes has brought together nearly 50 ag, food, tech, and healthcare organizations to close America’s digital divide.  

Land O’Lakes spearheaded the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition to advocate for public and private sector investments in rural broadband.

Tina May, chief of staff to the CEO and vice president of rural services with Land O’Lakes, says the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for improved broadband.

“When COVID-19 hit, the internet became more important than the road in front of your house or your farm,” he says. “It is fundamental for the future of these rural communities to continue to thrive.”

She tells Brownfield Land O’Lakes and several partners turned on free public Wi-Fi.

“We popped up over 150 free public Wi-Fi locations in over 19 states in a matter of just a couple weeks,” she says. “Those locations are still up and running and are seeing a lot of traffic and helping people with that reliable connection they need.”

But, May says it’s a short-term solution and the coalition is seeking a robust federal investment. In conjunction with the launch of the coalition, the organizations sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders urging them to take immediate action to enact groundbreaking broadband connectivity legislation to close the digital divide.

The coalition says it recognizes that it’s a costly goal but believes it’s worth the investment. The Federal Communications Commission estimated in 2017 that it would cost $80 billion to bring high speed internet to the remaining parts of the country that do not have access. A more recent USDA report estimated it would cost between $130 and $150 billion over the next five years. But, a US Chamber of Commerce study found that better adoption of online tools and digital services could create 360,000 new full-time jobs in rural areas and add more than $140 billion to the US economy over the next three years.

The other organizations involved include CoBank, Corteva Agriscience, National 4-H council, American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, National Council for Farmer cooperatives, National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, Cargill, National Milk Producers Federation, Ag Retailers Association, Bayer U.S., Syngenta, American Seed Trade Association, National Grain and Feed Association, and more.

Audio: Tina May

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