ARDEN HILLS, Minn. (April 22, 2020) – Land O’Lakes, Inc. announced today an effort to tackle the lack of rural broadband access, an issue dramatically exacerbated by the coronavirus and for many, the unparalleled and sudden shift to conducting virtually all daily tasks online. Land O’Lakes, Inc. and many of its rurally located retail-owners are planning to offer free and open Wi-Fi access to local citizens for the next six weeks outside many of their company locations, manufacturing facilities, along with other satellite businesses in 11 states across America’s heartland.
“As millions of Americans shift to work and school from home and increasingly look to telehealth for critical healthcare services, the urgent need for internet connectivity in rural America has never been so dire,” said Beth Ford, president & CEO of Land O’Lakes, Inc. “Today, we are proud to take the step along with many partners to bridge the gap and provide this critical service to these communities during this crisis. But our efforts now are only a short-term solution for a much bigger problem that people in our rural communities face, even when we are not experiencing a viral pandemic. As a member-owned cooperative, Land O’Lakes believes that we are all stronger together, and we are incredibly appreciative of the generosity of our retail-owners during this trying time.”
With deep roots across rural America, Land O’Lakes has worked to raise awareness for the need to increase access to digital connectivity in rural communities, partnered with advocates and allies, and now see an opportunity to deploy the power of the co-op system to make a difference in local communities. To that end, Land O’Lakes is also issuing a call to action to other companies with footprints in rural America who can also help provide these free Wi-Fi hotspots at their own facilities.
This service is being offered as part of a trial that is anticipated to last approximately six weeks, but may be suspended or continued as circumstances change. As part of this effort, Microsoft will work with local broadband providers to devise more ways to amplify Wi-Fi signals in these local communities, including providing hardware to participating facilities and broadband providers.
As nearly 19 million Americans -- or 40% of the nation’s schools and 60% of healthcare facilities outside metropolitan areas -- lack internet connectivity, Land O’Lakes has long advocated for significant broadband infrastructure investment in rural areas at both the state and federal level as part of its initiative, the American Connection Project. As Land O’Lakes and its partners continue these advocacy efforts in the future, investment will help ensure the vitality of rural America beyond the end of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ford continued, “If there were a time to band together with and for our rural neighbors -- many of whom are critical to feeding our nation -- now is that time. I encourage businesses with footprints in rural communities to join us in this small action to connect our rural communities; and I strongly urge state and federal policy makers to join us in fixing the problem by closing the digital divide in rural America.”
On April 15, Land O’Lakes and a coalition of other partners sent a letter to all 50 state governors, asking for their support of the initiative and inviting them to leverage their own resources to add additional Wi-Fi hotspot locations around their states. In addition, they asked states to support policies that would increase access to telemedicine and urged their support of robust state and federal infrastructure investments that solve rural internet connectivity challenges.
Starting this week, Land O'Lakes is offering free Wi-Fi access at the following locations:
Mt. Vernon, IL
Sioux City, IA
Montgomery City, MO
St. Joseph, MO
Mt. Horeb, WI
Chippewa Falls, WI
Members of the communities served can access the Wi-Fi from their cars; hours will vary by location. Each facility has designated a portion of its lot for Wi-Fi users, which will allow for proper social distancing practices. To maintain social distancing, guests are asked to stay in their own cars while using this service.