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Broadband’s Role in Rural Economic Development

January 27, 2021 @ 2:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Rural communities need access to high-speed internet service; but access is ineffective without effective planning, widespread awareness, adoption, and utilization of digital tools by individuals at home, in their businesses, and on farms. At a time when the national, state, and local governments are expending significant resources to provide or incentivize broadband availability to rural communities and their outlying farms, it is critical to understand how the demand for broadband among farmers might complement the provision of broadband to rural communities—sparking a virtuous cycle of higher agricultural productivity, increased adoption among consumers and other rural industries, leading to greater rural prosperity.

This conference opportunity is made possible with grant support from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). APLU will use what we learn in this session to develop a call for presentations for a later conference in the Fall of 2021. 



  • Identify the researchers and extension professionals working at the intersection of community broadband access and the application of digital tools in agriculture.
  • Surface the current strands of research and extension practices in these areas and identify the research questions that have yet to be explored.
  • Cultivate interest in this set of research and extension questions and in the fall conference.



Researchers and extension professionals interested in contributing to a research and extension agenda in these areas.



The breakout sessions will engage the contributors and participants in a discussion about the key research theme: what is known and what needs to be discovered about these key issues.

  1. Targeting Investments in Rural Broadband that Enable Rural Economies and Communities
    What factors are most important to consider? What data do we need to assess those factors?
  2. Building Partnerships to Maximize the Economic Benefits of Broadband Technologies
    What partnerships are working to increase access? What might be standing in the way of those partnerships?
  3. Advancing Technology to Enable Universal Access
    What technologies that enable precision agriculture also crossover to advance other rural businesses (manufacturing, retail, remote working)?
  4. Digital Ready Workforce
    How are the requirements (and demands) of rural workforce changing as rural communities develop access to broadband?


  • Sheila Martin, Vice President for Economic Development and Community Engagement, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities
  • Monica Babine, Senior Associate, Program for Digital Initiatives, Washington State University Extension
  • Wendy Fink, Associate Director of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources, APLU
  • Robert Gallardo, Assistant Director/Extension C&RE Specialist, Center for Regional Development, Purdue University
  • Sascha Meinrath, Palmer Chair in Telecommunications, Penn State University
  • Rachel Welborn, Associate Director, Southern Rural Development Center

Brian Whitacre, Professor, Agricultural Economics, Oklahoma State University



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