In the age of the cloud, digital connectivity is clearly a necessity. However, many rural communities in the United States still lack this need, including farmers, who are the backbone of the country. According to data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), approximately 60 percent of American farmers do not have enough broadband access to run their business, while 25 percent do not have Internet access from anywhere. kind.
Farmer owned Land O’Lakes cooperative He is determined to change that statistic by working with other organizations and government agencies to bring broadband to rural communities. Land O’Lakes is the founder of the American Connection Project, or ACP, which consists of 150 organizations leading diverse efforts, from promoting investment in rural broadband to promoting long-term digital inclusion of underserved communities.
I recently spoke with Teddy Bekele, CTO at Land O’Lakes, about connectivity challenges in rural communities and how the ACP is addressing these networking challenges. The highlights of my interview with ZKast, conducted in conjunction with eWEEK eSpeaks, are below.
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The ACP focuses on three key areas:
- Awareness: The goal is to lead open conversations about the lack of broadband in rural communities. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) estimates that roughly 18 million Americans lack access, while Land O’Lakes believes the number is approaching 50 million in rural areas.
- Advocacy: The focus here is to get other organizations to become advocates for rural broadband-related policies. ACP formed the American Connection Project Policy Coalition with more than 170 organizations spanning different industries.
- Action: The organization works with technology partners to propagate wireless signals in areas that lack connectivity. The ACP also has fellows who take action in their own rural communities as part of an initiative called American Connection Corps.
Ending the digital divide
The following are a sample of key points from our discussion:
- Despite technological advances in the US, digital divider it still exists for various reasons. Placing fiber in rural areas is uneconomical for wireless service providers due to challenging terrain, including lakes, forests, and mountains. Homes are separated by miles, which means that leaving fiber can cost an average of $ 40,000 per mile.
- At the federal, state, and local levels, different states are at different levels of maturity. Private companies are stepping in and offering expertise through public-private partnerships with the USDA and the FCC. Part of the cost of implementing broadband requires extensive infrastructure, which private companies can provide.
- Land O’Lakes started ACP before COVID-19. However, the pandemic further accentuated the digital divide between rural and urban communities. Farmers without Internet access were unable to run their businesses remotely. Students were not able to participate in distance learning. Telemedicine was not accessible to people with medical needs. All of these issues were amplified during COVID-19 and accelerated the ACP’s efforts.
- Since the beginning of the pandemic, ACP has worked with partners, including tech giants HP and Microsoft, to place antennas on towers. It is also working with retailers like Tractor Supply Company to enable public Wi-Fi access in store parking lots across the country, providing visitors with privacy and social distancing in their vehicles. In addition, the ACP created a interactive map to help people find their closest Wi-Fi hotspots.
- One vendor that contributed greatly to the ACP cause is Aruba, a wireless networking subsidiary of HP. Aruba provided remote network capabilities for wireless infrastructure. Most of the heavy lifting was done from ACP’s headquarters in Arden Hills, Minnesota. ACP was able to monitor, make adjustments, and work with people locally using Aruba solutions.
- Earlier this year, Land O’Lakes launched the American Connection Corps, to give directly back to local communities. Fifty-two fellows recently graduated from the program and returned home to serve as rural broadband evangelists. The program has been so successful in 12 states that the ACP is considering a second round of fellows.
- What’s next for the ACP? As farmers and the communities around them become more technologically advanced, they will need help to operate the equipment remotely. ACP wants to bring more technological capabilities to these communities, opening up new opportunities once broadband is available to all.