Rural residents ask federal leaders to address broadband

Sari Lesk
Stakeholders talk about the need for access to quality broadband in rural areas of Wisconsin at a listening session with U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at Northcentral Technical College on Friday.

WAUSAU - Local farmers, students and broadband industry leaders on Friday asked federal officials to boost rural access to quality broadband in a local listening session with the federal Agriculture Secretary.

Farmer Leslie Svacina said in the session that even basic business functions are difficult without reliable high-speed internet access.

"Just sending an email is a challenge," Svacina said.

Svacina said she refuses to pay an excessive amount of money for a product that is inadequate for her needs, she said.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said addressing that issue is one of the keys to improving rural prosperity.

“Broadband connectivity today is that water and sewer of the 20th century, and it's become a necessity," he said. Perdue said the issue affects a variety of areas including business and education.

Perdue, President Donald Trump's pick to lead the federal Agriculture Department, was confirmed in April. On Friday he hosted a listening session at Northcentral Technical College in Wausau, part of a five-state RV tour called “Back to our Roots.”

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue visits with stakeholders after a listening session on broadband needs in rural Wisconsin at Northcentral Technical College on Friday.

The tour aims to give federal officials the opportunity to gather input about the 2018 farm bill and needs in rural communities, according to a press release from the USDA. U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Rep. Sean Duffy also attended the NTC hearing with Perdue.

Ella Breitenfeldt, a 4-H youth leader, said solving this issue is important for youth and their futures. 

"Without the opportunities that 4-H offers, as well as many other youth development programs, without broadband and access to those things, which is the future of youth development, we're missing out on those opportunities," she said. "We're missing out on getting ready for our futures."

Perdue’s tour started Thursday at the Wisconsin State Fair. Tour stops in Wisconsin also include Franklin, Janesville and Elk Mound.