Live from the MRA: Broadband and rural communities


by Julia Olmstead | August 10, 2009 • “If urban America has the technology and we don’t, what does it say about democracy in this country?” — Loris Taylor, Native Public Media

Many of us who live in urban areas take for granted the digital access we have in our homes and workplaces. We use our lightning-fast connections for everything from reading the news, looking for jobs, doing our work and keeping in touch with friends. That’s not the case for much of rural America, something I’m learning more about in a breakout session here at the Midwest Rural Assembly.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

It’s a great panel of four speakers: Beth McConnell from the Media and Democracy Coalition; Joshua Breitbart from the People’s Production House; Loris Taylor from Native Public Media; and Edyael Casaperalta from the Center for Rural Strategies, who’ve all been discussing the digital divide—lack of access in rural areas to broadband technology, and particularly the lack of access that minority and lower-income populations have to high-speed internet service.

According to the speakers, this is an issue that goes beyond email and Facebook to actually strike at the heart of civic engagement. If rural Americans cannot get online, they cannot get the same access to news (something that’s becoming ever-more important as print media collapses), to political tools and information, to healthcare information (as well as telehealth—something that’s becoming an important part of rural healthcare strategies), and as important, to conversations that help build more vibrant rural communities.

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