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Improving Broadband Access in Rural Communities

Farmer climbing tractor
During the last three months, the world has been turned upside down. Living rooms have transformed into classrooms. Commutes require walking to the dining room table. Doctor visits have moved from clinics to the cloud.

Social distancing guidelines are requiring us to conduct virtually all daily tasks online. But let’s be honest: Connectivity in many rural communities was lacking before the onset of COVID-19. Now, those shortcomings are even more glaring.

We believe broadband access should be a right in rural America and is absolutely critical to maintaining and increasing sustainable agricultural production to feed a growing population. Here’s what WinField United, Land O’Lakes, Inc. and our retail partners are doing to address the issue.

1. Offering practical, short-term access right now.

WinField United and its affiliated retailers in the Advanced Acre Alliance are working together to provide Wi-Fi access in individual communities to help our neighbors connect to telehealth, remote learning and other critical — and potentially life-saving — services. So far, more than 150 free, temporary Wi-Fi locations are available to our neighbors in rural communities, with the expectation that the service will expand. Here’s how it works:
  • WinField United, Land O’Lakes and participating retail facilities have designated a portion of their parking lots for Wi-Fi users.
  • Community members can go to their nearest participating retailer during designated hours and access the Wi-Fi service from their cars while observing proper social distancing.

We’re also partnering with Microsoft to work with local broadband providers to devise additional ways to amplify Wi-Fi signals in local communities, including providing hardware to participating facilities and broadband providers.

2. Improving rural broadband access long-term.

Whether used to strengthen local businesses, improve health outcomes, open access to distance learning and educational resources, or assist with job opportunities, broadband access plays a vital role in sustaining vibrant communities. And yet, 19 million Americans across the U.S. don’t have access to high-speed internet — the greatest enabler of human connection in our lifetime. This is unacceptable.

Because of these disparities, WinField United and Land O’Lakes continue to advocate for significant broadband infrastructure investment in rural areas at both the state and federal levels as part of the American Connection Project initiative. This investment will help ensure the vitality and connectivity of rural America beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

3. Connecting farmers to new solutions.

As a society, we rely on farmers to feed the world. But 25% of U.S. farms have no access to the internet and 60% lack sufficient connectivity to run their business. At WinField United, we understand firsthand the need for connectivity in farming and the value digital tools and platforms bring to modern operations.

Whether it’s crop modeling tools, e-commerce platforms or ROI-driven data and insights, access to broadband means access to smarter purchasing, management and marketing decisions that help drive the bottom line. And as farmers continue to face new challenges and uncertainty, the need for these digital solutions becomes even more critical.

You can find out more about the free Wi-Fi program and participating locations here. We are proud to be a part of this temporary solution and recognize that there is a much larger challenge ahead. While solutions to the digital divide will take considerable investment and effort, rest assured that WinField United, Land O’Lakes and our retail partners are committed to finding solutions for the farmers and communities we all serve.

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