Land O'Lakes bringing free internet to rural communities

WinField United in Ogallala is offering free internet available in the parking lot of its...
WinField United in Ogallala is offering free internet available in the parking lot of its facility on West O St. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)(KNOP)
Published: May. 5, 2020 at 8:55 PM CDT
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Land O'Lakes Inc. is working to bring reliable internet to rural communities, and one of the first towns to receive internet is Ogallala.

WinField United, which is owned by Land O'Lakes, is offering free wi-fi in the parking lot of its facility on West O Street in Ogallala. To access the internet, patrons can pull into the north side parking lot of the facility, and connect to the free public wi-fi. Patrons are asked to stay inside their vehicles while using the service.

"Our internet has to be reliable, to be doing everything from from home like we have been doing," said Aaron McCord, the Warehouse Manager at the Ogallala WinField United facility. "We have really good internet, so it just fit, and it was something we felt we could provide the community."

Land O'Lakes is currently providing internet through 119 facilities across 14 states, including two in Nebraska; in Ogallala and Lincoln.

"This is just a part of a larger effort called the American Connection Project, and it's something that we actually have been tackling even before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out," said Land O'Lakes Chief Technology Officer Teddy Bekele. "It was really the idea that rural communities need digital connectivity, for education purposes and health care purposes, but also for rural economic development."

Land O'Lakes has been working with State and Federal officials to bring internet to rural communities, but the COVID-19 pandemic expedited the need to bring and option more rapidly, even if it is just a short-term fix.

"As people wanted to use telemedicine and be able to get in touch with their doctor, and also the kids being at home and having the ability to do homework, it became even more pronounced at that point in time," Bekele said. "So, there's a longer term solution of having more funding and getting more structure out there, but the question was, 'What can we do in the short term to be able to handle this?'"

The short-term goal is to help people stay in contact with their doctors, and allow children to complete schoolwork.

“If one kid gets some use out of it, it will be all the more worth it,” McCord said.

However, the long-term goal is to demonstrate the need for more projects similar to this one across the country.

"This is going to demonstrate that there's a need for it, there are folks in the communities that don't have access to this that absolutely need it. We can also say that we're really committed to this initiative, being a farmer owned cooperative it's in our best interest of our farmers, not only the ones that are part of our cooperative, but everybody that lives in that community," Bekele said. "This becomes a critical thing for education, economic development, and health care, and we need to make the investments in making broadband available, because it's an essential need, and it doesn't make sense that nearly 20 million Americans today don't have that."