United Electric Cooperative is dedicated to bringing broadband internet to rural communities in Missouri.
More than 40 percent of rural Americans lack access to high speed internet. Something so basic in an urban area, its absence threatens the livelihood of rural schools, farms, healthcare providers and rural businesses nationwide.
Broadband enables education
Students in rural communities rely on broadband to receive an education that equals their urban peers. With access to broadband, the schools in superintendent Don Lawrence’s district have started teaching foreign language classes to their middle schoolers for the first time; they have shown science videos in classes to demonstrate critical concepts; and they have offered higher level math courses than before. “Bringing broadband to schools like ours levels the playing field. Without broadband, we wouldn't be able to do the things in classes that we're doing,” he said.
Broadband facilitates healthcare
Similarly, broadband has countless applications in the healthcare sphere. For Andrew Hoffman, who serves as an administrator at the Andrew County Health Department, internet access is the only way he and his colleagues can communicate with the state health department offices. Broadband also enables telehealth, a crucial service for patients who are unable to travel, perhaps due to a lack of transportation, a medical condition or bad weather. “Broadband allows rural residents to communicate with their physicians from home,” Andrew said. “Even if they can't travel, their physician will be able to conduct their checkup.” Telehealth is especially important in Andrew County, Missouri, where they do not have a hospital.
Broadband is critical for rural businesses
Business owners and managers, such as Mike Maudlin of C&M Business Machines, also rely on broadband access. The internet enables them to market their goods, purchase supplies and research best practices. Access to the cloud also allows them to back-up vital business data, essential when preparing for potentially devastating storms. “We live in the tornado alley here in Missouri; if something would happen with a disaster, your data is gone. You're starting over.”
Broadband is a game-changer for agriculture
While people may think agriculture is only a matter of soil and seeds, technology plays an increasingly important role. Farmers utilize broadband to track their data, market their products, run their tractors and more. “I think the average person in America would be amazed how much technology it takes to run a farm these days,” Jim Bagley, CEO of United Electric Cooperative said.
For farmer Jared Stiens, internet access allows him to connect with the co-op where he sells his crop. “Our local cooperative can monitor our tractor while we're putting on fertilizers or spraying, and they know where we're at,” Jared said. “They know, in real-time, what's going on and that makes us more efficient; it helps everybody.”
Sustaining rural communities
Looking to the future, United Electric’s Jim believes that broadband is key to the success of rural communities across the country. “There is no business model right now that doesn't need broadband,” he said. Rural businesses, such as farms, hospitals and main street retail stores build the backbone of the rural economy. “People do not want to move into areas without broadband,’ he added. “We need to keep rural America intact, and the best way to do that is to have the same opportunities as you have in the urban areas.”
Similar to Jim, CoBank understands the great importance of broadband for agriculture and rural communities. That’s why they are proud to finance organizations like the United Electric Cooperative.