“We’re a farmer-owned cooperative. And we’ve been on this journey of trying to figure out how to bring digital connectivity to rural America for quite some time,” said Teddy Bekele chief technology officer of the cooperative during Farm Journal Live on Monday. “We were thinking of quick wins that we could put in place and one of the ideas that popped up was the fact that we could actually turn on guest WiFi at a lot of our locations.”
For access, people pull into the parking lot, join the Wifi and are connected. The company’s corporate offices, manufacturing facilities and ag retail cooperatives have turned on their guest WiFi to increase access across more than 14 states.
LOL sees internet access as a key need in today’s world, and it is. A Pew Research Center survey from early April reports that 53% of U.S. adults say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic, and another 34% describe it as “important, but not essential.”
The ability for kids in rural America to participate in virtual school and for people to access telemedicine has elevated and exasperated this need.
“If you don't want to go to hospital or go to a clinic because you may have the virus when you're there, or it's just too far away to get there, this becomes a very important need,” he said. “Or just the basic connecting with loved ones because we're not able to travel and see folks. So, if we just want to be able to connect with, you know, grandparents and kids and things like that, again, a very important need.
The cooperative is encouraging other businesses in rural communities to consider joining this effort to increase connectivity.
“The more access points we have, the better off we are. This is not just a land of lakes thing, this is a rural issue,” he said. “So more that could do it, the better off we're going to be in these communities. But in the long term, this is a real problem that needs to get addressed and, infrastructure has to be put in place. It's no longer a nice to have, it's an essential need at this point in time as we can see during these times. So having the right funding in place, both from the public and the private side to join in, and be able to make sure that every household has the ability to get WiFi or broadband at their locations, not only at their homes, but also their place of business in the in rural communities becomes extremely essential.”