Moving Forward with Rural Broadband Initiatives

Posted on Aug 25, 2020

Kentucky Farm Bureau continues its push for adequate broadband service to the last mile

The need for adequate broadband service has perhaps never been more apparent than it is now, but that need pre-dates COVID-19, and will likely still be around once the virus is contained.

Initiatives are moving forward, however, and will continue to do so, as long as it takes, said Kentucky Farm Bureau (KFB) President Mark Haney.

“The demand for connectivity has increased to the point that it has become a necessity for most of us whether we are running the farm, operating a rural business, or going to school,” he said. “We simply have to have broadband service available to everyone, no matter where they live but especially to those rural areas, many of which are underserved.”

Haney recently participated in an online panel discussion dedicated to the subject. The Prichard Committee, a private, non-partisan education advocacy organization, hosted the meeting which included guests from several sectors including technology, economic development, as well as education.

He told the panel that advocating for rural broadband has been on KFB’s legislative agenda for a decade and will continue to be a priority as the organization moves forward on this issue.

“One of the most important things to us at Kentucky Farm Bureau is rural development,” he said. “We know that our rural communities have to have connectivity. We have to be able to grow those communities in order for our children and grandchildren to be educated and be connected to the world. We want them to have lifelong employment opportunities while continuing to be able to live in rural Kentucky. Access to broadband internet services is a key to making that possible.”

Haney added that with the modern technology used in today’s farm equipment, the connectivity issue should actually be of interest to everyone because of its direct link to a steady and dependable food supply.

“We have farmers in the field who depend on technology such as GPS to be able to operate their equipment to its maximum capacity,” he said. “It is vital that they are able to connect to produce the food, fuel and fiber we all need.”

Haney informed the group of a new initiative being launched by KFB that will provide some assistance in these rural areas and across the state.  The organization is initiating a program that intends to make free, outdoor Wi-Fi available to anyone who comes to the parking lots of KFB’s offices and agencies. And this service isn’t just for members but is available for anyone in a community who needs the connectivity.  

“I realize this is not a fix to the problem, but it is a step in the right direction when it comes to serving the communities in which we live and work,” Haney said. “It will at least be an option for those who previously had no options.”

Haney said it will take some time to get the many KFB offices in the state ready to provide this service, but he sees it as a step in the right direction, even if it is a small step.

KFB’s involvement in this project comes from a broader, national initiative started by farmer-owned co-op Land O’ Lakes. The American Connection Project involves organizations in more than 19 states offering similar services as a way to keep users safe during the COVID-19 pandemic and offer the service to those who don’t have it.  

“If there were a time to band together with and for our rural neighbors -- many of whom are critical to feeding our nation -- now is that time,” said Beth Ford, president & CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “I encourage businesses with footprints in rural communities to join us in this small action to connect our rural communities; and I strongly urge state and federal policy makers to join us in fixing the problem by closing the digital divide in rural America.”

Haney emphasized that with pre-existing rural electric lines already in place, an infrastructure of sorts already exists to get this service to all areas.

“Generations that came before us worked hard to make rural electricity a reality in all areas of this state and across rural America, and today, we would like to be able to tag on to those lines that already run to those homes,” he said. “The connection is there, but we have to bring rural electric co-ops on board and providers to the table to be able to make this happen.”

KFB has just begun the process of readying a few offices throughout the state with parking lot Wi-Fi access, but the goal is to eventually make it available at all of its locations in Kentucky.