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What's the Department of Agriculture doing here anyway?

Photo of 1940s rural farm with electrical pole out front.
John Colliers / Library of Congress
Creative Commons license
A rural Vermont farm in 1943. Look close for the electrical pole out front.

We ran a quick bulletin last week on Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack's announcement of $40+ million in new stimulus money to bring more internet to New York State. That money actually goes to companies as grants and loans to build broadband infrastructure. But this story really got us wondering, when did the Department of Agriculture (USDA) get mixed up in internet service? The answer turns out to be 1933, when the USDA began its rural electrification program, bringing electric light (and threshers, and grain elevators) to rural America. Since then, the USDA has made loans for telephone service, and broadband internet. The Recovery Act split money for building broadband access between two agencies, to do what they do best. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration is handing out funds to build middle mile infrastructure (the central trunks of the network) and the USDA is helping to bring that network the last mile to rural households and businesses. Milk prices, internet service providers: all in a day's work at the USDA.

Former WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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