WASHINGTON, October 6, 2021 – Through her experience running a 100-year-old farmers’ cooperative, Beth Ford said she saw firsthand the importance of connectivity, and in response her company created the American Connection Project with the mission of fostering long-term digital access and inclusion in rural America.
As the president of Land O’Lakes and the keynote speaker for the Independent Show, a virtual conference held by ACA Connects, Ford said her company has partnered with 170 different organizations including Microsoft, Lumen, Nestle, Dell, Hershey, Google Fiber, Baylor Scoot & White, Scholastic, and Hewlett Packard in advocacy efforts asking for funding, resources and policy changes from the federal government to close the digital divide in rural America.
To Ford, this is an issue of national security. Without widespread access to broadband, there is a marked reduction in food security, healthcare, and education. Ford believes the nation would be stronger with better broadband and is weaker because of digital inequity.
The American Connection Project created a fellowship, the American Connection Corps, with the express purpose of taking educated young people who’ve recently graduated college and are returning to their rural hometowns to assist with the boots-on-the-ground effort to boost local connectivity.
Possibly the project’s greatest feat has been establishing more than 3000 free, public Wi-Fi locations throughout 49 states. Though they admit that this is a temporary solution that doesn’t get to the heart of the systemic issues which drive the digital divide, these stations are an empathetic resource which has touched thousands of lives.
Ford said she was thrilled by the bipartisan infrastructure bill, noting that although the $65 billion in proposed broadband funding didn’t reach their advocacy effort’s goal of $80 billion, it was huge price tag which will alter the American broadband landscape for the better.
Experiencing the importance of broadband
Ford said she learned the value of hard work shucking corn on her family farm in Sioux City, Iowa with her seven siblings, two sisters of which have found themselves as successful businesswomen in the telecommunications industry.
You may know Land O’Lakes from their butter, but the Fortune 200 company worth $15 billion is much, much more. Land O’Lakes is a 100-year-old farmers’ cooperative with subsidiaries such as a sustainable production business, exotic animal nutrition, the #1 producer of rice and tapioca pudding in the US and Canada, micro-ingredient distributers, egg producers, an NGO focused on facilitating farming practices in Africa, a South African herbicide producer and most recently the American Connection Project.
In her travels through rural America, Ford noticed that healthcare access and outcomes, food security and education were suffering. She found that the, “greatest enabler of our time is technology, is access to broadband.”
Broadband was the “basic wiring” which would spur job growth, population growth, food security, education and healthcare access which became even more apparent during the pandemic, she said, as our communities had to socially distance for the health and safety of our neighbors leading to the closure of many rural health facilities.