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May 05

Rural Latinos Need Access to High-Speed Networks Too.

Rural Latinos Need Access to High-Speed Networks Though much of LISTA’s work focuses on urban areas, we cannot forget our brothers and sisters living in America’s more remote, rural areas where access to high-speed Internet technology is even more important for economic development and new business opportunities. More than 4.2 million Latinos live in rural areas, and we represent the fastest-growing non-urban population according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rural America is home to hard-working Latino farmers and ranchers and a whole host of entrepreneurs who just need an infusion of 21st Century technology to compete in the global economy – and reduce national unemployment in the process. But according to FCC data, the majority of the 10 million or so homes that lack access to basic broadband networks are in rural areas. LISTA has supported government programs aimed at helping all Americans bridge the digital divide, whether by promoting broadband adoption through job training and education programs or by directing grants and low-cost loans to unserved regions of the country. But many of the programs targeting rural Americans have fallen well short of their goal. The Department of Agriculture’s Farm Bill Broadband Loan program has been a consistent example. The program has made loans to more than 100 project since 2002, totaling close to $2 billion in funding that Congress intended for unserved rural areas. But an eye-opening internal audit in 2005 showed that many of these projects were neither unserved nor rural. Unless the program is reigned in, USDA can loan an additional $300+ million this year, and new rules proposed by USDA still allow areas already served by at least one provider to receive funding. Improving access to broadband in rural America is crucial both economically and socially. The benefits of distance learning for our children in rural areas will pay dividends for generations. Providing telehealth capabilities to rural doctors and hospitals will not only save lives but create countless health IT business opportunities for Latino entrepreneurs. But in order to achieve these goals, we need to ensure that infrastructure funds reach the areas where no broadband exists. LISTA calls on the USDA and Congress to get this right.

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