“Rural Americans do not represent only a need. They represent a resource,” said CAP Senior Fellow Mark Lloyd told members of Congress at an informal hearing on Wednesday. “We need the energy and ideas and active engagement of our small towns and rural communities in our national discussion.” The hearing, sponsored in conjunction with the National Rural Assembly conference, was chaired by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT); other participants included Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D-KS) and State Sen. Shannon Augare (D-MT).
Rural communities across America continue to lag behind urban and suburban American areas in accessibility to quality education, health care, and communications technology. And according to Lloyd, these disparities are even greater when compared to countries such as Canada, Europe, and the industrial nations of Asia. “Communications systems are disappearing, rapidly,” said Sebelius.
Sebelius also noted that as rural America lags further behind the rest of the country in access to modern communication, local newspapers and radio stations are being rapidly replaced by the community coffee shop as many rural citizens’ primary news source. This sometimes leaves rural citizens without accurate information and breaks down opportunities for two-way dialogue between rural and urban communities.
“Connecting all Americans to the most advanced communications service is important for business, health care, and education, and it is fundamental for civic participation,” said Lloyd. Without access to modern communications technology, rural communities are restricted from actively participating in the global economy, thereby limiting the quantity and quality of available services and restricting their ability to get their voices heard.
Communications technology is essential to quality services such as education and health care, but it is not the only missing piece. Sebelius commented that “strategic planning is a key pillar that is missing.” She suggested that a newly developed “public square” process could potentially solve this issue by bringing health and human services, business, education, and government officials together to solve local problems. Government officials in rural communities do not often have the time or resources to plan long-term solutions, let alone implement them. The “public square” process would allow community leaders to facilitate solutions by working together to develop a long-term vision central to the success of rural communities.
Investment in planning and communication must be made if rural communities are to survive and prosper. As Sebelius commented, “If you close the school, you close the town. If you close the hospital, people won’t live in that community.” Maintaining and building on services, connectivity, and technology is clearly central to a thriving economy and integral to the survival of our rural communities.
Without the ability to educate and communicate with the next generation of workers, successfully maintain their health, and provide them with comparable and competitive opportunities, the future of America’s rural communities looks blight. This would not only hurt rural citizens, but the country as a whole. In order to prevent this outcome, our government must ensure quality services by investing in commutations technology and strategic planning. “Our federal policies should ensure not only that rural America sees and hears the world, but that the world has an opportunity to see and hear and benefit from rural America,” said Lloyd.
To read Lloyd’s full testimony, please see: