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The Farmer's Guide to the Internet

The Farmer's Guide to the Internet
The Farmer's Guide to the Internet is the first publication of TVA Rural Studies. It was chosen for the initial effort because we believe it is a valuable product in itself. But just as importantly, it serves as a model for the operating philosophy of TVA Rural Studies as a whole. To the typical "real world" problem facing rural communities, the Farmer's Guide to the Internet offers a market-oriented
solution that can be immediately applied by interested individuals. The objective of our entire research agenda is precisely that: searching for practical "people-oriented" solutions that are ready to use.

It is not accidental that issues of rural information access help define this larger agenda. In November of 1994, when the Tennessee Valley Authority Board of Directors established a research center to explore issues shaping the future of rural America, a guiding question was whether rural communities would progress or fall further behind as a result of the intense pressures of accelerating information and communications technologies. Equally important was the question of how TVA can help rural communities and businesses use new technology to improve their condition.

Seeing a direct analogy to TVA's earliest mission, the Board recognized that electronically transmitted information will fuel wealth generation in the years ahead just as electricity did in the 1930's and 40's. Then, as now, the issue was "will access to the most basic raw material of economic advance be equitably distributed or will we divide into two America's--plugged in urban populations and disconnected rural ones?"

To deal with these challenges, the objective of the Farmer's Guide to the Internet goes beyond helping farmers to have quick access to the information necessary for them to run their businesses, though that is a significant goal in itself. The larger intention, from TVA Rural Studies' point of view, is to help build a user base in rural communities sufficient to make the rural delivery of Internet service by commercial companies profitable at competitive market prices.

The farm community is an appropriate starting point. It is, by definition, a business conducted in a rural area, and, by general agreement, it is a significant component in the structure of rural life. Many of the farm-related sites laid out in the Guide will clearly be of interest to rural citizens who are not directly engaged in farming. Moreover, we plan to reorganized the information gathered in the first half of the book and distribute it in manuals for rural teachers, rural bankers, rural manufacturers, etc., supplemented in each case with directories of relevant Web sites and their addresses.

In the next few years, TVA Rural Studies will bring the same paradigm and values to a variety of other pressing rural issues: work force development and employment policy, the consequences of electricity deregulation, promoting expanded entrepreneurship in rural manufacturing, reconciling natural resource use with environmental stewardship and improving our understanding of the forces leading to economic growth and decline..

These are the kinds of issues that will shape the future of rural America. And they will shape it for the better if individual rural citizens are armed with practical solutions like the Farmer's Guide to the Internet and the other research products that TVA Rural Studies will work to provide in the years ahead.

David Freshwater
Program Manager
TVA Rural Studies

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