I’ve spent all of my life in rural America. As a farmer from the town of Big Sandy—population 600—and as a U.S. Senator from Montana—population just over 1 million—I know rural is more than a population threshold. It is a way of life.
Ask any Montanan, any North Dakotan, any Alabamian, we like our way of life. We like seeing familiar faces at the local grocery store, dealing with the same family mechanic for generations, and sitting down next to the same regulars at the town watering hole.
We are not interested in skyscrapers, light-rail, and a Starbucks on every corner. We enjoy our wide-open spaces, outdoor way of life, and farming and ranching heritage. But in order for our small businesses, rural and frontier hospitals, and farmers and ranchers to do business we need reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service.
Rural America has long distances between people and the truth is that we need service. We need reliable, functional internet. In order to compete in a 21st century economy, rural America needs broadband. We can no longer succeed in the 21st century with 20th century infrastructure.
In Wolf Creek, Montana—population over 500—a student trying to get his MBA online cannot quickly download their course materials. A doctor in Jordan, Montana—population just over 300—doesn’t have the upload speed necessary to send an MRI to a specialist in Minnesota. And a farmer in Scobey, Montana—population 1,000–is forced to take their tractor into the shop because they cannot get the instructional video on how-to fix an air seeder to stream on their computer. Driving to school, mailing an MRI, getting your tractor to the shop, it all takes time. Any good businessman or woman knows, time is money.
In rural America, we know the value of a hard day’s work. We are always willing to roll up our sleeves to get the job done. But nowadays, in order to get the job done, we need to be connected to the internet. Montana’s lack of broadband is not unique. More than 23 million rural Americans do not have quality internet service. That leaves a significant portion of our great country without a service that is as essential as roads and bridges.
That’s why I am looking forward to working with President Trump to deliver on a responsible 21st century infrastructure bill for this country. One that rebuilds our crumbling physical infrastructure, but also invests in the infrastructure of the future. Democrats, Republicans, and Independents need to work together to make sure rural America is just as prepared as urban America to succeed. If we don’t, we will continue to see our kids leaving rural America behind for the greener grass of better-connected places.
In order to protect our rural way of life we need to connect rural America. We need to invest in our communities to help create jobs and improve the quality of life for millions across the country. Investing in broadband for rural America will not only help these communities survive, it will help them thrive. It will allow a business in Paris, Tennessee–population 10,000–to sell their product to folks in Paris, France. It will allow a grandson in Atlanta, Indiana—population 700—to Facetime with his grandma in Atlanta, Georgia. It will allow folks in Manhattan, Montana—population 1,500—to telework into a company in Manhattan, New York.
Securing broadband for rural America will secure rural America’s future. Folks won’t be forced to sell the family farm in order to get closer to a functioning hospital. Mom and pop shops won’t have to board up their doors due to a changing business model. And the best and brightest from every farm town from coast-to-coast won’t flee to the bigger cities chasing an education.
Making these investments today will pay dividends tomorrow. Our kids and grandkids will thank us. Rural broadband doesn’t just help rural America, it will save it.
Senator Jon Tester is a third-generation Montana dirt farmer from Big Sandy.
Views expressed in op-eds are not those of The Daily Caller.