Movie nights in the Hawkins house can be a real challenge. Choosing a movie always leads to debate, but the biggest challenge is locating the remote. No one ever seems to know where the Roku TV, set-top box, and remotes are!
It wasn’t always a problem when I was a kid. Growing up, my family’s television was locked away in a wooden cabinet, and my brother, sister, and I were dad’s remote control for the handful of channels we had.
Back then, everyone was watching the evening news and families were making time for “Full House” and other sitcoms on ABC’s TGIF lineup. Today, in the world of “smart” devices and video streaming services like Netflix, parents and children watch what they want, when they want, all thanks to high-speed internet.
We live in a connected world where broadband is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity, just like electricity. While the Rural Electrification Act lit 90% of farm homes in 1959, connecting those homes to high-speed internet proved difficult. But the rural broadband problem isn’t just about entertainment. This issue concerns our ability to work, to access health care and education, and to use advanced technologies on our farms and ranches. Rural broadband supports the building blocks of a strong and sustainable rural community. Paul Harvey didn’t say a farmer will “finish his 40-hour week by noon Tuesday, then suffer when the tractor comes back, be really upset that his Netflix is buffered.”
Precision farming: For a row crop operator in northeast Missouri, a slow internet connection can prevent an otherwise successful operation from upgrading to the latest precision farming technology. Of course, not having GPS with field information is impractical, but without access to this technology and other tools, it is more difficult to manage input costs. For example, greater precision in applying fertilizers where they are needed and at the right rate reduces costs at a time when input prices are at record highs and further improves our environmental stewardship.
Small business: While a small town cafe might be the best place to meet on a Tuesday morning to talk shop between planting and harvest seasons, if that cafe can’t get a rural broadband connection for its checkout system reasonably priced cash register, the local water point may be in trouble. Trying to market a specialty crop like popcorn to grocery stores or customers across the state or country? Take the time to go to the local McDonald’s to receive online orders, as it is the only place with a strong enough wifi connection in your county to conduct e-commerce.
Education: In a world where the changes wrought by a pandemic are still fresh in our minds, a snow day turned virtual day for the local school can mean a day of class missed for a rural student without a broadband connection. Online college courses that might offer a second-generation farmer the chance to stay on the farm while earning a degree are also out of place without rural broadband.
Telehealth: Much of rural America lives more than an hour from a major hospital or surgical center. While many small, rural hospitals provide excellent basic care to their communities, rural broadband can mean the difference between an hour-long trip to see a specialist or a trip down the street to your local rural hospital for receive the same quality care via a telehealth system. visit (with a nurse or doctor you know and trust).
Precision agriculture, small businesses, education and telehealth will help our rural communities stay strong, grow and prosper, but none of this is possible without a high-speed broadband connection. It is the common thread that connects us to the critical infrastructure needed to help bring our children home and ensure the prosperity of rural Missouri. It is now.
Garrett Hawkins is the president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest agricultural organization.