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It’s no secret that broadband and internet connectivity is poor or non-existent in a huge swath of the rural landscape. While city folk might see this as a social inconvenience, the nation’s ranchers and farmers know it to be an economic handicap, that can prevent them from realizing the full financial benefits of their labors. Tracking market prices, selling when the going price is high — sourcing equipment and goods in a labor efficient way, monitoring the most effective irrigation patterns — these days, access to broadband can make the difference between success and failure.

RFD-TV, a national rural affairs network, and the American Farm Bureau have announced they are teaming up to host live, expert panels during a national conversation on the digital divide. Washington, D.C. will be one of three live locations across the country for this free event broadcast live across the country on Wed. Nov. 17.

Produced by national nonprofit Connected Nation (CN), it will host expert panelists at its American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) studio location for what is being called a “National Conversation on the Digital Divide.”

“All of us at RFD-TV are committed to covering the stories and providing information that is critical to our nation’s rural and agricultural communities,” said Katie Farritor, News Director, RFD-TV. “We are very much aware that farmers, ranchers, and families living in our small towns need better internet access to take part in everything from remote learning to precision ag. That’s why we wanted to support this important day and event.”

The event is titled “20 years of connecting the nation: a national conversation on the digital divide” and will feature live, in-studio expert panel discussions from three US cities: Washington, D.C.; Sugar Land, Texas; and Portland, Oregon as well as stories from across the country profiling how individuals, families, and communities are directly impacted by the digital divide.

“Broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Technology on the farm continues to advance, allowing farmers to more efficiently grow crops and meet sustainability goals through targeted use of seeds, water and fertilizer.
But a quarter of U.S. farms still have no access to the internet. We must make connecting rural America a priority and this event will help highlight the pressing needs of America’s farmers and ranchers.”

In addition, Duvall met with a Connected Nation video crew on his farm to provide an interview and guidance on the challenges of the digital divide in rural communities.

The day will include three important panels moderated by RFD-TV’s Washington News Bureau Chief, Emily Buck:

  • “Infrastructure and emerging technology”
  • “Leadership at CN through the year”
  • “Beyond our borders.”

These panels will include, among many others, representatives from OneWeb, Intel, and USDA Rural Development with a focus on what’s been done for rural communities and discussion on the work that’s’ still needed.

“When we were first planning this event, RFD-TV and Farm Bureau were among the first organizations mentioned as potential partners,” said Connected Nation Communications Director Jessica Denson. “Many of Connected Nation’s staff members work in rural communities and with local stakeholders and have witnessed the good work RFD-TV does in keeping rural communities informed and AFBF does in connecting with and supporting farmers and ranchers. The need for better broadband access disproportionately impacts rural communities so, putting two-and-two together, we knew these would be great partnerships for the national event.”

This virtual event will also feature live panels hosted by KGW8-TV, an NBC affiliate in Portland, Oregon, and Fort Bend Independent School District in Sugar Land, Texas, which will be the only student-run location for the event.

Find more details about the panels and register for free for the event at cn20.org.

Featured image: Ranchers moving cattle between fields, along CR 270 in fall, 2019. Photo by Jan Wondra