Op-Ed

Broadband expanding opportunities in rural Kentucky

Broadband-high speed Internet is changing the way Americans live their lives.

It's hard to remember how many of us got by without it. With access to broadband, we can easily sell a car, rent an apartment, look for a job, read the news, or manage a business.

The advantage of the broadband network is that it can connect you to the rest of the world on your schedule, at your convenience and almost anywhere — unless you live in rural America.

Too few rural Americans take advantage of the opportunities broadband provides. Only half of rural residents subscribe to broadband — compared to 65 percent nationwide — because too many communities in rural America don't have adequate access to broadband infrastructure.

Simply put, building a broadband infrastructure is critical to creating jobs and economic opportunity in rural America. With investments in broadband, we are fostering innovation and bringing America's rural communities into the digital age.

A young person doesn't have to move to the nearest city to make a living. He or she can create, develop, and run a business at home, in rural America, and be successful.

A young parent can work and raise a family and still connect with business partners across the country or around the world. With new or enhanced broadband access, the door to economic growth is open.

When broadband access reaches into rural communities:

■ Farmers and ranchers will have up-to-the-minute commodity and weather information to make the best decisions for their operations.

■ Schools can expand limited course offerings through distance learning — both advancing education and better preparing students to compete in the 21st century economy.

■ First responders will have information they need to keep their communities safer.

■ Health care will improve, as medical specialists will be able to use telemedicine to provide advanced diagnosis for patients or to consult with colleagues at other hospitals.

At the Department of Agriculture, we are focused every day on creating thriving rural communities where people want to live and raise families. We want every parent and grandparent in rural America to be able to look their child or grandchild in the eye and tell them that their hometown has the economic opportunities to offer them a bright future.

Over the past several months, the Obama administration has announced investment in Recovery Act broadband projects nationwide. Since February 2010, 10 telecommunications companies in Kentucky have been selected to receive funding for broadband projects — for a total investment of more than $265 million.

Rural communities that will see new or improved broadband service include those in Bath, Breathitt, Bullitt, Calloway, Carlisle, Clay, Crittendon, Elliott, Graves, Harlan, Hickman, Jackson, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Livingston, Magoffin, Marshall, Menifee, Morgan, Nelson, Owsley, Perry and Wolfe counties.

Many of these new projects will help expand broadband access in rural America. These projects will not only directly create over 5,000 jobs up front but spur economic development in some of the nation's hardest-hit communities, creating jobs for years to come.

These funds will put people to work constructing new facilities, erecting towers to transmit signals and installing high speed broadband services in homes, businesses and community education, safety and public health centers. But the investments will also foster long-term economic growth.

The $7.5 billion provided by the Recovery Act to help expand broadband will benefit tens of millions of Americans and more than 685,000 businesses, 900 health care facilities and 2,400 schools in all 50 states.

President Barack Obama signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 with a vision of knowing it would help America. In addition to the jobs it will create and save in Eastern Kentucky and across the country, it will stimulate the national economy.

It is the foundation for sustainable growth and for keeping us competitive within the global economy.

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