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Rural News

We Need a National Rural Broadband Plan

The New York Times | Posted on February 12, 2019

Despite the large amount of funding coming from the Rural Utilities Service and the F.C.C., rural America has not seen broadband deployed and adopted at the same speed and effectiveness that it had with electricity and telephone service almost a century ago. The reason for this lag is a lack of coordinated federal policies, which in turn has allowed major telecommunications companies to receive a large portion of these funds without much regulatory accountability. An opaque set of grant and loan stipulations make it difficult for communities to apply for funding, and in some states, a series of laws actively prohibit or inhibit towns and cooperatives from wiring their own communities.

On the land, one-quarter of vertebrates die because of humans

Science Daily | Posted on February 12, 2019

Humans have a ''disproportionately huge effect'' on the other species of vertebrates that share Earth's surface with us, causing more than 25 percent of the deaths among an array of species all over the globe, according to a recently published study.A team of scientists from the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) in Syracuse, New York, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture analyzed the deaths of 42,755 animals that were reported in 1,114 published studies. They found that 28 percent of the animals' deaths were directly caused by humans.

Plummeting insect numbers 'threaten collapse of nature'

The Guardian | Posted on February 11, 2019

The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinction, threatening a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, according to the first global scientific review.More than 40% of insect species are declining and a third are endangered, the analysis found. The rate of extinction is eight times faster than that of mammals, birds and reptiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a precipitous 2.5% a year, according to the best data available, suggesting they could vanish within a century.The planet is at the start of a sixth mass extinction in its history, with huge losses already reported in larger animals that are easier to study. But insects are by far the most varied and abundant animals, outweighing humanity by 17 times. They are “essential” for the proper functioning of all ecosystems, the researchers say, as food for other creatures, pollinators and recyclers of nutrients.The new analysis selected the 73 best studies done to date to assess the insect decline. Butterflies and moths are among the worst hit. For example, the number of widespread butterfly species fell by 58% on farmed land in England between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suffered the biggest recorded insect falls overall, though that is probably a result of being more intensely studied than most places.


New USDA 'toolkit' features resources for high-speed internet in rural areas

Tribune Live | Posted on February 10, 2019

The federal government is encouraging rural communities to take advantage of new opportunities to expand broadband internet service. The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched a new toolkit to support the deployment of high-speed internet service in rural communities. The toolkit features 27 USDA programs meant to facilitate the expansion of broadband, including grants, loans and technical assistance from multiple mission areas of the USDA.“High-speed broadband e-connectivity is becoming more and more essential to doing business, delivering health care, and, for schoolchildren, doing homework in rural communities,” said Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development. “This user-friendly tool will help rural customers find the many resources USDA has available to support the expansion and use of e-connectivity in rural America.”


Rural economies aren’t dead, but they do need help

Bangor Daily News | Posted on February 7, 2019

On the other hand, all across this country, I’ve visited (and lived in) small towns from Maine to Indiana to Virginia to Colorado to New Mexico that are flourishing. Sometimes the ones that are flourishing are just miles away from those that aren’t, providing a natural experiment to determine what makes a difference and what works. There are quite a few commonalities among the towns that are doing well. One that stands out is that these thriving places have high-speed internet service and reliable cell service. What seemed like a “nice to have” only 20 years ago is absolutely a baseline requirement these days to attract and retain citizens and businesses.Another commonality is what some people call “placemaking.” Most of these towns have invested in themselves. They spruced up downtowns with new sidewalks and street lights. They helped landlords repair and enhance storefront facades. They supported the real estate investors who come in and rehabilitated signature, historical buildings, like old textile mills in New England, tobacco warehouses in North Carolina, Victorian-era houses in Colorado mining towns and adobe buildings in New Mexico. Most of all, these towns celebrate their history, rather than tear it all down.


Rural Depopulation in a Rapidly Urbanizing America

Carsey School of Public Policy | Posted on February 7, 2019

This brief examines demographic trends in rural America, a region often overlooked in a nation dominated by urban interests. Yet, 46 million people live in rural areas that encompass 72 percent of the land area of the United States. In all, 746 counties representing 24 percent of all U.S. counties are depopulating, and nearly all of them—91 percent—are rural. Just 9 percent of urban counties are depopulating (Figure 1). Such depopulation is a clear indicator of a lack of demographic vitality in a significant part of rural America. Over one-third (35 percent) of all rural counties (676) are depopulating (Figure 2). Today, only 6.2 million residents remain in these depopulating rural counties, a third fewer than resided there in 1950.Though rural depopulation is widespread, many rural counties are thriving and gaining population. Indeed, 35 percent (673) were at their peak population in 2010 and contained 24.8 million residents in 2016—54.5 percent of the rural total. Such growing rural counties often benefit from proximity to metropolitan areas or are centers of recreational and retirement activity that attract urban tourists, retirees, and businesses. The remaining 31 percent (599) of rural counties, which contain 14.6 million residents or 32 percent of the rural population, have had mixed periods of growth and decline, but their cumulative population losses have been far more modest than in the depopulating counties that have been in decline for many years.

Surprise! Rural download speeds are worse than reported.

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 7, 2019

Nearly three-quarters of the downloads hitting Microsoft servers from nonmetropolitan counties are so slow they don’t meet the FCC definition of broadband. Microsoft’s county-level data shows a big gap between what the federal government says is available and what people actually use.Overall, according to Microsoft, half of the U.S. population, or about 162 million residents, did not use the internet at a minimum of 25 Mbps download. By comparison, that’s roughly seven times the size of the population that the official FCC data says does not have download speeds of at least 25 Mbps. 

Rural communities should not shy away from contentious topics

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 7, 2019

So she’s not the sort of person you expect to lead folks into potentially uncomfortable conversations about contentious topics. But that’s exactly what she does with the Rural Climate Dialogues. The dialogues assemble a representative sample of rural community members to explore climate change and create a community response plan. The dialogues are not a feel-good pep talk for like-minded thinkers. They include people with starkly different opinions. They probe the topics you try to avoid at the elementary school-chili supper fundraiser, the ecumenical potluck, or anywhere else rural people tread delicately through the minefield of polarized politics. Claussen says when communities prepare properly for a discussion on polarizing topics, there’s nothing to worry about. And she isn’t just being polite about it. “We [must] walk into this vulnerable space and have a conversation about something that has been tagged as too polarizing and just too deep, that will somehow derail us if we go there,” she said. “We need to go directly to the center of those issues. To have faith in each other. To have faith in people who you think don’t align with your views.” 


Rural lender develops inline portal to help business owners

Daily Yonder | Posted on February 7, 2019

Northern Initiatives covers a large 78-county service area primarily in rural Michigan, along with a few counties in northeast Wisconsin. While it worked over the years to provide capital and know-how to small business owners in Michigan and Wisconsin, the community development financial institution (CDFI) knew it had an issue: How could its staff best provide entrepreneurs with support services that improve a business’ chances of succeeding with a start up loan? To solve this problem, the organization launched an online “customer portal” with information and training that address the most commonly identified business needs.  “In 2014, we decided to build this customer portal,” said Northern Initiatives President Dennis West. “We started to put together the resources. We produced 10 videos, started to be able to deliver content online for our borrowers, saw that it was promising, and we continued to build out the portal. Now it has 21 videos, six financial calculators, 100 articles and recorded webinars.” The online resources are organized around the topics of money, marketing and management. “The platform becomes a way we can deliver more content to our customers, a portal for delivering a blended learning approach where our customers can get access to information, terms and definitions so that coaching sessions can be more productive focusing on strategies and tactics to solve challenges,” West said.  

Logging, Money Battles Delay Wildfire Prevention Work

Pew | Posted on February 6, 2019

With the number of devastating fires expected to increase as the climate grows warmer and drier, experts and states want to see more federal investment in projects that could avert massive blazes. Most forestry experts, including many environmentalists, say protecting communities from fire requires land managers to cut down problem trees, brush and saplings, and set prescribed burns that restore fire’s natural role in forest ecology.Due to the rising costs of fighting fires, however, the U.S. Forest Service lacks money and staff necessary for projects that could make future fires less severe.“The non-fire staffing in the agency has been gutted because our budget stayed flat, but the cost of wildfire had increased so greatly,” said Melissa Baumann, president of the National Federation of Federal Employees’ Forest Service Council, the union that represents Forest Service workers.