A missionary came to a vineyard in the little town of Dublin, N.C., on Oct. 19.  It was Tom Vilsack, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and the topic of the sermon he delivered to a few hundred farmers and townspeople was the vital importance of increased access to the Internet.

“I was at a grain elevator earlier today, and we listened to the operator of the elevator,” said Vilsack, standing on a truck bed at LuMil Vineyards. “She said that sometimes she might not quote the exact price of a commodity (to a producer of a commodity.”)

She bemoaned she would need “real time” information to really serve her customers right.

“That is what expanded broadband access will do!” Vilsack said. “It will help the grain elevator do a better job of serving its farmers and ranchers. And the farmers and ranchers themselves need that technology for their marketing efforts.”

There will be many other benefits to rural communities, he said. “Small rural businesses want to expand their marketing opportunities beyond the local market they serve today to a regional or global market. Broadband will help them do it.”

More access to broadband will also be a boon to “anchor institutions” like schools, libraries and medical facilities, he said.

“I know full well that when our hospitals and doctors’ offices have Internet access (to a wider range of records), we won’t have to travel hundreds of miles to a big hospital to get the kind of care we deserve in rural America,” he said. “And when there is bad weather or difficult circumstances, police chiefs and sheriffs could use the broadband to communicate with each other.

“It is a critical component of new revitalized rural economy.”

Vilsack had some good news about acquisition of broadband: Funding was included in the last farm bill and in the stimulus package for this purpose.

The state of North Carolina alone will see almost $150 million invested in the broadband expansion effort in rural communities, Vilsack said. “It is going to help over 129,000 folks who live in rural communities have access to broadband