Land O’Lakes opens Wi-Fi spots to help rural broadband access

Adam Belz:

Land O’Lakes has turned on public Wi-Fi at more than 100 co-op locations in rural America to give people without good internet access a chance to finish their homework or communicate with a nurse about an illness.

For Beth Ford, chief executive of the Arden Hills-based co-op, the move is a chance to highlight what she views as a critical gap in the nation’s infrastructure.

Highlights from an interview last week:

Q: Why is it important to talk about rural broadband right now?

A: I’ve pushed this topic a number of times — the need for technology investment in rural communities to support things like telemedicine, tele-education, entrepreneurs.

Nobody’s going to stay in communities or move to communities that don’t have that kind of access. This is in stark relief in this moment, where you can see this issue with the pandemic and everyone is going to remote learning and there’s concern over the reduction of the number of hospitals in rural communities, the shortage of doctors.

We’ve been pushing the need for a 1930s kind of rural electric level investment where we have broadband accessible across the United States. That would be a $100 billion to $150 billion investment.

Q: What is the obstacle to rural broadband getting done?