Access to the internet is critical for life in the 21st century, not something that is simply nice to have. To ensure our rural communities have quality health care, college-level math classes at the county high school, or precision agriculture technology at the local farm, high-speed broadband internet connectivity is necessary.

When I first took office, President Donald J. Trump directed me to lead the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, a team of federal, state and local leaders focused on improving the lives of those who live in rural America. Expanding access to broadband in rural communities is one of the task force’s top priorities.

I always say investing in the expansion of rural broadband is as vital as rural electric and telephone networks were decades ago. It’s time to reignite a passion for connectivity and work to bring broadband to every small town and piece of farmland across our nation.

Full participation in the modern economy depends on access to the internet. We cannot leave behind those who live in rural America. When Americans are connected to high-speed internet, productivity and prosperity skyrocket. This task of providing rural Americans with broadband is of the highest importance for President Trump and his administration.

One of the core missions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is to increase rural prosperity by boosting economic opportunity in rural America. We know that rural communities need robust modern infrastructure to thrive. Of the 21 million Americans who lack high-speed broadband internet access, 80% are in rural areas and on tribal lands.

Americans in rural communities, like some of the farmers and ranchers in Brunswick County, often are prevented from accessing new technology simply because they do not have a reliable internet connection. Rural businesses in Brunswick County are prevented from accessing new markets through e-commerce.

For children living in the small towns of rural Virginia, that lack of access means some kids are doing their homework out of a fast-food chain parking lot — or not at all. That’s what is so important about President Trump’s initiative to expand access to broadband.

The $600 million USDA budget for the ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program is a big step toward connecting rural America to the economic prosperity of the 21st century. The USDA designed this program to make the greatest and most widespread impact as possible in rural communities across the country, like those in Virginia.

We started accepting applications in April 2019 for the new ReConnect Broadband Pilot Program and there was an overwhelming response. In just three months, the USDA received 146 applications requesting more than $1.4 billion. That’s double the amount we have available for this first round of funding to connect more than 2,750 farms and 2,575 rural businesses to this critical infrastructure.

The first round of recipients includes Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, which will be responsible for connecting 1,254 households, two volunteer fire departments and four educational facilities. As we continue to announce the first round of recipients, the USDA will look for ways we can be better partners to community leaders, just like Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, in rural communities across the country.

It is clear that rural America’s need for these investments is great, and the competition for these resources is fierce. Under the leadership of President Trump, the USDA is proud to partner with rural communities and their leaders in deploying this critical infrastructure. We know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.

The success of small businesses and the local economy in rural America is dependent on access to broadband. Any small business can become a global player through e-commerce. This is only possible if it has access to broadband.

Technological breakthroughs are radically transforming farming practices around the world. Precision agriculture and data-management innovations like blockchain will allow a family farm to track produce from the farm to a table on the other side of the world. That also has significant implications for food security and product safety. When Americans are given the right tools and a chance to succeed, we all prosper.

In today’s information-driven global economy, broadband connectivity is not a luxury. Broadband is essential for education, health care, communication, banking, entertainment and, of course, agriculture. The USDA will continue to work at the direction of President Trump to ensure that no community is left behind and that all Americans gain access to broadband connectivity.

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Sonny Perdue is the 31st U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and is a former governor of Georgia. Follow him on Twitter at: @SecretarySonny

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