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Rural Broadband a Top Priority for Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue

On Wednesday, April 18, the 2018 Cap-to-Cap Food & Ag policy team had the opportunity to meet with Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue. The meeting, secured through the leadership and persistence of Linda Budge, mayor of the City of Rancho Cordova, was held Wednesday morning at U.S. Department of Agriculture headquarters, located in the historic Agriculture South Building in Washington, D.C.  Mayor Budge and Secretary Perdue are former high school classmates, having attending high school together in Georgia, Purdue from a local farming family and Budge from a military family. The two have remained in contact over the years.

The Food & Ag team was there to talk about several policy priorities for the greater Sacramento region including rural broadband, forest management, conservation, and expanding support for and access to healthy foods for the hidden hungry, including college students and working families.

On the issue of rural broadband, Secretary Purdue noted that the lack of “e-Connectivity” is the top issue he hears about wherever he visits, most recently Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee. Purdue believes “e-Connectivity is the number one issue holding the [U.S.] ag industry back.” In fact, after meeting with our team, the Secretary was launching the first of a series of national listening sessions on improving e-connectivity in rural America, along with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and a coalition of industry leaders. (The Food & Ag team held a meeting with the Chairman’s office earlier in the week on the same topic).

Relaying to Purdue the challenges from a California perspective were third generation Clarksburg farmers, David and Phil Ogilvie. David shared his personal story of his ability to apply modern farming techniques to drive efficiencies in water use on several of his fields through sensors and remote irrigation management with an iPhone app. Due to lack of broadband access, he isn’t able to deploy the technology on all of his fields. His farm in Clarksburg is located is a community less than a fifteen-minute drive from the California State Capitol. Unfortunately, lack of broadband access in rural areas of California is not an issue unique to Clarksburg. In fact, as a whole, the region has relatively poor grades for broadband infrastructure.

The world views California as leader in technology and innovation. However, we are not leading in terms broadband speed and access. Many rural residents are disconnected from the many benefits of e-connectivity, including opportunities for distance learning, expanding global markets for small businesses, connecting to information on employment and job applications, and accessing telemedicine for improved health.

Fortunately, there is growing awareness of the importance of broadband as a critical utility for 21st Century competitiveness. As affirmed by Secretary Perdue, it’s time to build a 21st Century Highway of Connectivity. We can look to models from the past that have expanded utilities such as electricity and telephone service to all for ideas. Solving the problem will require creative partnerships between federal, state, local government and private partners.

The Connected Capital Broadband Consortium is working with partners and stakeholder across the region to elevate the importance of this issue and to help fill our broadband infrastructure gaps. Together, we can envision the future-ready e-connectivity infrastructure we need for regional prosperity and competitiveness. Let’s work together collectively tackle the challenge!

Tammy Cronin was a Valley Vision Project Leader working in the 21st Century Workforce and Healthy Communities strategies.