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Michigan Granger heads to D.C. in support of rural broadband

By Herb Woerpel, mlive.com (10/13/11)

  OCTOBER 14, 2011 --

One man’s desire to bring broadband Internet coverage to rural America recently landed him in Washington D.C.

Jeff Swainston, 47, of New Salem, Michigan, and 125 others recently stormed the nation's capital as part of the “Broadband WORKS for Rural America” advocacy.

The coalition featured members of the National Grange, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, farmers, ranchers, teachers, small business owners and others from rural communities and small towns across the country. The group met with national leaders, pleading that increased access to high-speed Internet is a critical component of job creation and economic development, and is necessary to ensuring a prosperous future for citizens living in remote or hard-to-reach communities.

“There are approximately 26 million Americans living in areas unserved by broadband capable of originating and receiving high-quality voice, data, graphics and video telecommunications,” said Swainston, legislative director for the Michigan State Grange. “Approximately 654,000 of them live in the state of Michigan.”

While on Capitol Hill, participants held a press conference, and met with members of Congress and other legislators, calling for policies that promote further expansion of high-speed Internet to rural America.

As part of their message, advocates stressed that increased access to high-speed broadband would spur job growth, attract new businesses and allow for the expansion of existing operations, and promote essential social benefits such as distance learning and remote healthcare services via telemedicine in rural communities throughout the country.

Swainston said he discussed the topic with the office of Sen. Debbie Stabenow and the members of the U.S. Senate committee on agriculture.

“Many of the people we met with agree that this is a major issue, but again they all said the big question is where is the money going to come from,” he said. “They question whether there will be appropriations for such a project. Some mentioned stimulus money and others talked of the next farm bill, but we don’t know if a farm bill will emerge in the next two months or two years.”

Regardless of location or occupation, the need for reliable, high-speed Internet, both wired and wireless, is something that everyone can agree on, said leaders at the fly-in.

“In rural America in particular, there are acres of opportunity for economic growth, but greater access to next-generation technologies is key to capitalizing on these opportunities,” said Jess Peterson, executive vice president of the U.S. Cattlemen's Association, in a press release. “Right now, Americans need jobs, and we need to make sure that all Americans have the tools to create and sustain them. I believe we successfully delivered that message to policymakers this week.”

Swainston said he is hopeful the event will spur a policy change.

“When you do something like this, you always wonder how effective you are. Do these legislators really pay attention to your pleas, or do they have their own agenda,” said Swainston, who served as President of the Michigan State Grange from 2002-2008. “Regardless, I think this is a very positive thing and the system works. A few years back we initiated legislation on affordable health care for self-employed workers, and that was adopted. Hopefully this follows suit.”

For more information on the Michigan Grange Office, visit http://www.michiganstategrange.org/ 

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