Guest opinion: High-speed broadband can spur success in rural Montana

2012-01-21T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: High-speed broadband can spur success in rural MontanaBy JESS PETERSON The Billings Gazette
January 21, 2012 12:00 am  • 

The arrival of high-speed broadband access to the Internet is having the same effect on rural America as the arrival of electricity and telephone service: It is transformational.

Unlike businesspeople in urban areas where sources of information are plentiful and the ability to reach a client or colleague might be as simple as walking down the street to their office, those of us who live in rural communities have had to rely on scattered service and dial-up email to contact those same associates.

From small businesses in Montana towns and cities to Montana farms and ranches, high-speed mobile broadband access is critical. Everyone benefits from being connected. Small businesses with broadband access can locate, buy and sell the latest offerings and local manufacturers can reach out to markets in Europe and Asia at the click of a button. Similarly this access allows my fellow farmers and ranchers to make critical decisions regarding the purchasing of seed, fertilizer or feed, and when best to market crops or livestock.

Broadband access in rural communities is more than an electronic ticker tape for buying and selling. It allows us to reach across the globe for best practices and for new markets. It allows us to see the latest equipment in action on the manufacturer’s or distributor’s website. It even allows us to “attend” meetings via inexpensive or free webcam software.

Broadband enables our students to have access to the same research materials from the world’s finest resources as easily as students in a state’s largest city. Our students can successfully compete for scarce positions in our finest universities whether their high school is in a city of thousands or a town of hundreds.

New age medical care is being offered at an unprecedented level. As more and more rural doctors and clinics connect to the major health centers using telemedicine, patients who once had to travel for many hours to see a specialist can now be examined closer to home with a high-definition consult using broadband access.

I’m not an engineer or a designer. I’m a fifth-generation, native Montanan. High-speed Internet access provides me with the ability to represent Montana and U.S. cattle producers in Washington, D.C., along with balancing time spent on the family ranch and managing a cow-calf operation. Access also allows me to monitor cattle markets in real time when I can’t make it to the Miles City Livestock Commission to watch my cattle sell in person.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface of the value of high-speed broadband access as an agricultural tool. It’s time to saddle and ride to make certain that every farmer, every rancher, every home and business across this great country has access to high-speed internet.

Jess Peterson is executive vice president for the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association and ranches near Hathaway. For more

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