By Sonny Perdue
Access to the internet is critical for life in the 21st century, not something that is simply nice to have. To ensure our rural communities have quality health care, college-level math classes at the county high school, or precision agriculture technology at the local farm, high-speed broadband internet connectivity is necessary.
When I first took office, President Trump directed me to lead the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, a team of federal, state and local leaders focused on improving the lives of those who live in rural America. Expanding access to broadband in rural communities is one of the Task Force’s top priorities.
I always say, investing in the expansion of rural broadband is as vital as the rural electric and telephone networks were decades ago. Full participation in the modern economy depends on access to the internet. We cannot leave behind those who live in rural America. When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket. This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his administration.
One of our core missions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture is to increase rural prosperity by boosting economic opportunity in rural America. We know that rural communities need robust modern infrastructure to thrive. Of the 21 million Americans that lack high-speed broadband internet access, 80% are in rural areas and on tribal lands.
Americans in rural communities, like some of the farmers and ranchers in New York, are often prevented from accessing new technology simply because they do not have a reliable internet connection. Rural businesses in Western New York are prevented from accessing new markets through e-commerce.
For children living in the small towns of rural New York, the lack of access means some kids are doing their homework out of a fast-food chain parking lot – or not at all. That’s what is so important about President Trump’s initiative to expand access to broadband.
The $600 million budget for the USDA’s ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program is a big step toward connecting rural America to the economic prosperity of the 21st century. USDA designed this program to make the greatest and most widespread impact as possible in rural communities across the country, like those in New York.
We started accepting applications in April 2019 for the new ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program and there was an overwhelming response. In just three months, USDA received 146 applications requesting more than $1.4 billion. That’s double the amount we have available for this first round of funding to connect more than 2,750 farms and 2,575 rural businesses to this critical infrastructure.
The first round of recipients includes Seneca Telecommunications of Salamanca, which will use ReConnect Program funding to connect more than 1,000 households, 58 businesses, three educational facilities and one additional critical community facility on the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory. As we continue to announce the first round of recipients, USDA will look for ways we can be better partners to community leaders, just like Seneca Telecommunications, in rural communities across the country.
It is clear that rural America’s need for these investments is great, and the competition for these resources is fierce. USDA is proud to partner with rural communities and their leaders in deploying this critical infrastructure. We know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.
Sonny Perdue is the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.