The general manager of a rural telephone company says extending “broadband” service is key to getting young people to live in rural Iowa.

“It’s a living, breathing network and it has to evolve as our needs evolve,” says Tom Conry, general manager of the Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company in Harlan. 

Broadband service is “essential” for entrepreneurs in rural Iowa, according to Conry. Having high-speed lines available can help attract “telecommuters” as well. 

“We see some families coming back to Iowa that had left, because of where they can raise their families, they can still work with access to broadband,” he says. “They can still work in high-tech jobs and those things can come back to Iowa, so I think it’s very important.”

Linda Barnes teaches beginning farmer courses at Marshalltown Community College and she agrees that young people consider high-speed access to the Internet crucial to their life and livelihoods. 

“I think without it we don’t get new farmers,” she says. “I mean you can’t be at all sexy if you don’t have broadband. I mean, it’s just not going to work. People won’t put up for it.” 

Barnes and Conry made their comments during a forum at the Iowa State Fair that was hosted by U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack. This week Vilsack announced a handful of companies are getting U.S.D.A. grants to extend broadband service in Iowa. Vilsack says the effort is similar to the extension of electricity to rural America in the 1930s and ’40s.