I was honored to host a panel last week at the Department of Agriculture’s Ag Outlook Forum to showcase the impact of USDA broadband programs on so many in rural communities. Our February 25th Rural Development panel, “Building a Stronger Rural Infrastructure: Broadband,” portrayed the ripple effect these investments have.
We heard from Luis Reyes, CEO of Kit Carson Electric Cooperative, which has provided electric power to consumers since WWII. They got into the broadband business because they recognized a need. Like many with a sense of community and knowledge of how broadband affects economic development, they successfully applied for Recovery Act broadband funding from USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), a Rural Development agency. “This will ultimately change the landscape of New Mexico,” Luis told the audience. “This is an opportunity for us to partner with colleges, health care facilities and the community to expand businesses, hire more employees, build markets and improve healthcare. To think that a small co-op in New Mexico can turn a project into a model program nationwide is exciting.”
Mary McCarthy, nurse manager of Critical Care Connection at the Eastern Maine Medical Center explained how a Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant from RUS helped build a network to treat cancer patients, saving them from driving 200 miles for medical services. “Telemedicine can save lives,” Mary said. “As a nurse, I never would have thought I would have been involved in telemedicine. Technology is not my forte,” she noted, with chuckles from the audience.”Grants are very important because rural areas cannot afford to finance these services. This investment saves lives, saves money and improves care.”
Larry Sevier, CEO of Rural Telephone, said that with the help of RUS, they have served small Kansas communities since 1952. “Our headquarters is in Lenore, population 300. Our service territory is 7,500 square miles with an average of less than two people per square mile. We used RUS loans to help schools share top teachers, tap into Fort Hayes State University for advanced math and science classes, and tie our hospital to rural clinics. We are providing free service to rural libraries to help those who cannot afford broadband service. Our businesses can now market their products worldwide, 24-7. Broadband is a catalyst for economic development in rural communities,”
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association, explained that the key to getting broadband deployed in remote communities is teaching residents the value of broadband and how it can provide a payoff in the future. “You need access to financing. RUS laid the groundwork for voice communications 60 years ago when large companies did not want to serve rural communities because of the costs involved. Policy solutions often fail to understand the value of growing rural areas. For a very small cost, there is great economic impact. We need to stress how important rural areas are to the U.S. economy.”
These are good examples why RUS will continue to work to finance strategies that revitalize rural economies and build tomorrow’s opportunities. To find out more about how USDA can help your community achieve its broadband goals, click here.