USDA Broadband Funds for Rural America – Implications?

Bonnie BraceyBy Bonnie Bracey Sutton
Editor, Policy Issues

A couple days ago, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the USDA’s second round of funding to extend broadband access to America’s underserved rural and distant areas.

I’d like to hear what ETCJ readers, writers, and editors think of this initiative. What are the implications? Is it enough to make a difference in these areas? How will this affect teaching, learning, and the economy now that the residents will be able to raise their “electronic” hand? Will schools benefit? Who benefits most? To post a comment, click on the title of this article and scroll down to the composing window.

Here’s the opening of The White House press release:

WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the funding of 126 new Recovery Act broadband infrastructure projects that will create jobs and provide rural residents in 38 states and Native American tribal areas access to improved service.  Broadband access plays a critical role in expanding economic, health care, educational and public safety services in underserved rural communities. Today’s announcement is part of the second round of USDA broadband funding through the Recovery Act. Read more >>

3 Responses

  1. A new wave of learning tools will require Internet access, not necessarily super broadband but better than unreliable dial-up. I have spoken with some of those who work with Native Americans, and they really would like to improve the Internet access on reservations. If you haven’t been to a reservation in the Southwest, you may not realize how isolated they are.

    Of course, this initiative will also help a bit with jobs in these perpetually underemployed areas.

  2. I agree that this can help with jobs in those areas. particularly with Native Americans.

    When I was an undergraduate, I participated in a project tutoring Native Americans on the Akwasasne Reservation in New York and Canada, which housed the Turtle clan of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois confederacy. (The “white” name for the reservation was St. Regis; we went with their preference.) Like so many reservations, it was isolated and poor. In a meeting one night with some of the student leaders, Chief Ernie Benedict explained their predicament.

    The men of the tribe were famous throughout the world for their abilities as high steel workers, able to move nimbly and fearlessly atop growing skyscrapers many hundreds of feet above the ground. They could make good money doing that, but only if they were far from their homes. If they moved where the money was, they would lose their tribal identity–they would be Mohawks living among strangers, and the tribe would soon disappear. And so the men would work a number of months away from home and then return to their families until the money was gone.

    That was actually the goal of a misguided U.S. policy a half century ago called TERMINATION. The theory was that if we could just get these people to go off the reservations and meld into the rest of society, then the “Indian problem” would disappear. Of course, this put the native population into the dilemma of being part of their tribal heritage (in poverty) or attaining relative prosperity while separated from their cultural heritage and people.

    If you have ever been to the Southwest reservations, you will see the problem. The government carefully surveyed the available land and assigned these people to the most inhospitable and isolated regions possible. There is little opportunity to create any kind of real living. The only thing that has really saved them is an old supreme court ruling, ignored by Andrew Jackson but alive and well today. The native population is sovereign over its land, and it can thus create casinos in states that do not otherwise allow gambling.

    In our modern world, though, the Internet allows people to earn a living from anywhere they wish. All the work I have done for the past 7 years has been from my home, and I could work just as easily from the Pima reservation in Arizona, provided that I have adequate Internet access. If I were a native American, I could work on high level, executive type work in my home and then meet with my neighbors in the land of my ancestors whenever I felt like taking a break.

  3. I’d like to see this expanded until every corner of the US and the world is connected. The next step would be to add a layer of wireless hot zones so that going online from “anywhere” on the planet is a reality. -Jim S

    Added 8.6.10: “Rural telecom gets a boost” (eSchool News, 8.6.10).

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