Nearly 50 organizations from multiple industries have joined forces as part of a new coalition to help close the digital divide. Convened by farmer-owned cooperative Land O’Lakes (LOL), the American Connection Project Broadband Coalition will advocate for public and private sector investment to bring high-speed internet infrastructure to rural areas. Members will also advocate for policies and contribute their own resources to facilitate remote education, health and mental health services and job opportunities.
The project represents a mix of companies from tech, health care, agriculture and more “who understand the ramifications of our country’s broken internet infrastructure and who have the willingness and expertise to help address this need,” said LOL President/CEO Beth Ford. Food-related companies like LOL are using smart ag, which needs connectivity. In addition to LOL, Hershey, Nestle, and telecom-related businesses like Valmont, CenturyLink, and NTCA-The Rural Broadband Coalition, are members.
The group cites an FCC estimate of $80 billion needed to bring high-speed internet to unserved areas, while a more recent USDA report claims “between $130 and $150 billion over the next five years to adequately support rural coverage and 5G wireless densification.” That’s why the group sent a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders calling for “immediate action” and urging them to “enact groundbreaking broadband connectivity legislation that includes the necessary resources to close the digital divide.”
“Many of our businesses and associations joined together amid the pandemic to provide free guest WiFi access in hundreds of communities across America to allow families to come to our parking lots, stay in their cars, and access telehealth appointments; use distance learning platforms; and perform critical daily business such as paying their online bills and doing telework,” says the coalition in the letter. “Further, for those who have access, service providers among our coalition have offered free or discounted services to many households during the pandemic. We recognize these are short-term fixes and Americans need a long-term solution.”
In April, the coalition asked all 50 U.S. governors for their support, and urged their support of robust state and federal infrastructure investments to solve rural connectivity challenges. The group also invited them to use their own resources to add more WiFi hotspots around their states and asked them to support policies to make telemedicine more accessible and affordable.
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