First, bridging the digital divide in rural areas

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Montana is at the center of a digital divide. One that cripples rural communities across the state and nation.

In America, rural and low-income cities face coverage gaps while urban centers have world-class broadband access. Urban or rural, our lives depend on the Internet. For rural America, it has never been more important for Congress to properly define its broadband priorities as it tackles the Biden administration’s US plan for employment.

Congress must prioritize unserved areas of the country. These include small town Montana and other rural areas most in need of major investment in broadband. Americans need a modern, permanent and sustainable solution to bridge the digital divide. Congress has the resources to do it.

We were delighted that the American Jobs Plan committed $ 100 billion to connect all Americans. However, we believe that the priorities of this investment fall short of empowering and connecting vulnerable communities – the communities most in need of major broadband investments. Putting these communities first is the only way to keep rural America serving a significant portion of the American economy and feeding America and the world.

Currently, 90% of Americans have high-speed Internet access. However, 26% of rural Americans do not have access to any broadband infrastructure. This disparity is even more apparent in Montana, where a recent poll found it has the worst broadband in the country. Rural states have filled the lower level with poor internet service. Congress must prioritize rural broadband before investing to accelerate urban access.

Due to uneven internet coverage, many industries in the state are affected – industries like agriculture, ranching, manufacturing, and a myriad of small businesses that form the backbone of Montana’s economy. High-speed Internet access is extremely important to the farming community, most of which is located in rural Montana, to gain access to high-speed Internet; whether it is to communicate with customers, monitor the weather and commodity markets, and use advanced agricultural practices. Reliable broadband and broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s an essential business function.

Not only is broadband important for basic daily tasks, it is also a crucial part of the development of agro-industry. As the climate continues to change, our agricultural system will inevitably change as well. The future of agriculture relies heavily on innovative solutions that can both respond to these changes and pave a new path for sustainable farming practices. This type of innovation can only happen in farming communities that have reliable internet access. Ultimately, broadband paves the way for agriculture into the future.

The point is, rural farmers and ranchers need access to quality broadband infrastructure as much as our urban counterparts to ensure the success of their businesses, maintain the quality of their livelihoods, educate their children and usher in a new era of agro-industry.

We have a historic opportunity to bring the Internet to all Americans by extending existing broadband infrastructure to unserved areas of the country, closing the accessibility gap, and increasing digital literacy Rural Montana cannot be left behind in this increasingly digital age. It is our hope that the Montana congressional delegation stands up for rural communities. It would be a shame if Congress sent essential resources to America’s biggest cities as the rural divide grows in places like Montana. Prioritize rural broadband.

Jack Alexander is president and chairman of the Rural & Agriculture Council of America. He lives in Belgrade.



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