Rural broadband access has been a widely debated topic in Washington DC over the last couple of years as policymakers – local and national – have woken up to the fact that there are still a number of citizens in one of the most developed nations in the world that do not have connectivity where they live or work or raise their families.
What was gratifying today was having a discussion with a Fortune 500 CEO, Beth Ford, leader of Land O’ Lakes – one of our nation’s premier agri-business corporations. With 10,000 employees nationwide working in 50 states and 50 companies, this farmer owned cooperative business nets over $15 billion in annual sales. Want to know what their latest focus is on? Ag technology and that includes broadband access.
Beth and her team came by the NTCA office today to compare notes on what is happening on the broadband front and what paths might exist to actually get the federal resources necessary to actually get the job done for the millions of Americans who are still without access. Clearly this is a public policy priority that she and her operation have spent a great deal of time pondering. The use of their farmer partners to help crowdsource broadband availability and the desire to create a more standardized process with a top-down approach from the federal government were major points of discussion. I love the corporate approach to really streamline the process and speed it up that LOL raised, but have been in Washington a tad too long to have optimism in that being as easy to execute as it is to articulate, but you simply have to start somewhere if you can get corporate America interested in coming to the table.
The part of our discussion that I felt was most intriguing was the willingness of Land O’Lakes to put their money and effort where their collective mouths are…to not just talk a good game about the importance of rural broadband deployment but to actually look for ways as a corporate partner to move the debate. As Beth was sharing, she noted the hypocrisy of all of the focus on precision agriculture and the number of calls she fields daily from Silicon Valley on Ag IoT products, without anyone focusing on how those products won’t work without internet access to farms across the country.
I’m interested in seeing where this connection and conversation can take us but you have to start somewhere and a leader like Beth Ford is someone who I take at their word when it comes to gathering others in corporate America to recognize that rural broadband deployment is not only good for rural Americans, it’s a move forward for all Americans.