Wednesday Roundup: Calling Rural America

Calling for help • Pork pays off • Ag-gag bill controversy • Fears and funding • Connecting the Magnolia state

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Calling for Help –A group of 12 senators from across the United States has sponsored a resolution asking the Federal Communications Commission to get tough with phone companies that fail to complete calls to rural areas. A study found that the call completion rate to rural phones is 12 times worse than the urban rate. (For more on “rural call completion,” see Harold Feld’s Daily Yonder article.)

“Telephone communications are vital to keeping rural areas of the United States competitive in the economy, and a low rate of telephone call completion results in economic injury to rural businesses,” states Senate resolution 157. Govtrack.us says the resolution has a 76% change of being approved by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee and a 75% chance of being adopted by the Senate.

Pork Pays Off – Chinese meat processor Shuanghui International Holdings Ltd. has agreed to buy Smithfield Foods Inc. for approximately $4.72 billion in a deal that will take the world’s biggest pork producer private. Hong Kong-based Shuanghui owns a variety of global businesses and is already China’s largest meat processing enterprise. Smithfield owns brands such as Armour, Farmland and its namesake. Smithfield shareholders will receive $34 per share under terms of the deal announced Wednesday.

Under the agreement, there will be no closures at Smithfield’s facilities and locations. The company has approximately 46,000 employees.

Ag-Gag Bill Controversy – Legislation similar to the bill vetoed earlier this month in Tennessee is being hotly debated in North Carolina. The bill would make it a crime to apply to a factory farm job with the intention to document animal cruelty and also require anyone who recorded animal abuse or other illegal activity to turn all evidence over to local law enforcement within 24 hours. The bill’s opponents, like North Carolina state Humane Society director Kim Alboum, say “Rather than trying to prevent animal cruelty and food safety problems, this bill shows that the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce’s intent is to keep Americans in the dark.”

The state Chamber of Commerce put out a news release Tuesday protesting such claims. “It is extremely disappointing that a national group would stoop to such misrepresentation of a bill and lead the public to believe the business community is in favor of animal abuse of any kind.” said North Carolina Chamber vice president Gary Salamido.

Fears over Funding – Proponents of the USDA Rural Development Program worry that cuts in funding will cripple communities that have relied on the program to provide basic and necessary services.  Chris Merrett, director of the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs, says the impact of possible cuts would be devastating. “It would lead to an accelerated deterioration of the rural quality of life,” he told Harvest Public  Media. The story on the Rural Development Program looked at the town of Staunton, Ill., which just built a new $9 million water plant to replace its 80-year-old facility and attract business to the area.

Connecting the Magnolia State – Residents of rural Mississippi are more connected to the Internet than ever, but there is still a long way to go. Mississippi State University says that about 70% of the state’s citizens have used broadband, but there is no figure for how many are unable to access it from their home or business. The recently established Mississippi Broadband Task Force, led by the governor’s office, reached out to providers supplying broadband service in the state. They also worked collaboratively with the providers to standardize the information compiled and created a geographic representation of their coverage.

“Mississippi is committed to developing a long-term strategy to provide broadband access throughout the state,” daid Gov. Phil Bryant. “Broadband Internet access is becoming increasingly critical to families, businesses and institutions, and increasing our broadband capabilities will yield new and varied opportunities.”

 

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