News Detail

Ruth Simpson June 16, 2018

Broadband services in rural America is focus of listening session June 19 in Minnesota

Broadband providers and the people who use—or would like to be able to use—those services in rural America are invited to offer their perspectives on enhancing e-connectivity at a listening session June 19.

The Upper Midwest Listening Session of the project, What’s on the Horizon for E-Connectivity in Rural America, will be 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. June 19 at the Archery Building on the grounds of the Rice County Fairgrounds, Faribault, Minn. A live webcast of the session will be available and can be accessed at https://www.youtube.com/user/thefarmfoundation/live.

There is no charge to participate in this session but reservations are requested and can be made by sending an email to Michelle@farmfoundation.org.

“We want to hear from the people who live and work with limited broadband access today, as well as those who have innovative solutions for expanding the availability of those services,” says Constance Cullman, president of Farm Foundation.

Farm Foundation is partnering with CoBank, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to organize broadband listening sessions across the country. The intent is to gather insights into the tools that are needed to improve e-connectivity to enhance the economic health of rural America.

Bill Esbeck, executive director of the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association, will join Steve Fenske, attorney and government relations Manager with the Minnesota Association of Townships, to discuss e-connectivity needs in the Upper Midwest.

“Access to broadband is critically important for the economic viability and sustainability of rural communities. This listening session is a great opportunity to share the accomplishments of small, rural broadband providers across Wisconsin. The rural providers I represent are continuously reinvesting in their broadband networks and closing the digital divide,” said Esbeck. “Conversations like these among diverse stakeholders allow us to develop a greater understanding of the issues, explore solutions and showcase what has worked so these efforts may be replicated to the benefit of rural communities across the nation.”

Innovative solutions now being used to deliver broadband will be the topic for three Minnesota officials: Kristi Westbrock, CEO/General Manager of Consolidated Telephone Company of Brainerd, Minn.; Danna MacKenzie, Executive Director of the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development; and Brian Zelenak, CEO of the Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative, Aitkin, Minn.

“Enhancing the quality of life throughout our communities is our priority,” said Zelenak. “Broadband spurs economic growth in rural communities and opens the door to modern education, healthcare and telework options. We’re proud to help modernize our local economy by making broadband internet a possibility for our members.”

“With these experts and the other rural stakeholders attending, we want to identify the challenges rural communities now face in providing quality broadband services, as well as the innovative options being used to address those challenges,” says Cullman.

The June 19 listening session is part of a series planned across the country. A report of the feedback from those sessions will be provided to federal and state public and private leaders to better inform their decisions regarding improvements to, and expansion of, broadband services in rural America.

Dates and locations of future listening sessions will be announced by the end of June.

Article appeared in the High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal, June 14, 2018.