More than 80 years ago, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued an executive order called the Rural Electrification and Telephone Service Act of 1936. It provided federal loans to bring utilities to expensive-to-serve and hard-to-reach rural areas.
One of the act’s chief proponents was a senator from Nebraska named George Norris, who recognized the importance of electricity and phone service to the economic and social well-being of rural communities. Without service, rural America couldn’t compete in a changing world.
Well, the ensuing eight decades have brought more changes. Broadband internet and cell service are today’s equivalent to electricity and phone. The hurdles to bringing faster internet to rural America are almost identical to the ones in the 1930 — expense and logistics. The solutions will require equal creativity and, most likely, a little federal oomph. And rural residents stand to benefit if this gets figured out sooner rather than later.
President Trump’s recent pledge to ford the digital divide as part of an infrastructure plan is heartening, but it’s certainly not a straight line from a president’s lips to a county farmer’s laptop. Ultimately it will require action on lots of governmental levels and partnerships with providers.
The need, however, is unquestionable. And it’s a need that should be felt by all Americans, not just those who want to stream a two hour movie in something close to two hours. All Americans have a vested interest in a thriving rural lifestyle. Some want a place to go home to. Some want a place of peace. Some simply want affordable food, made possible by farmers and ranchers having access to better technology. And all will benefit by creating more places in the state where innovation and new business ideas can take root.
The Journal Star’s Nick Bergin talked with rural residents who need access to faster internet for work. And what parent hasn’t wanted to simply download a movie and plop the kids in front of it for a couple hour break. Slow internet seeps into so many aspects of life that many of us take our relatively reliable and speedier service for granted. Solutions in rural areas, Bergin found, are expensive or nonexistent.
Right now it may not seem that access to faster internet is a matter of life and death like electricity is. But electricity may have seemed more luxury than necessity in the 1930s. If we want a thriving rural lifestyle in America, we need to take steps now, creative ones, to fix this digital divide.