|APRIL 3, 2010 --
National Grange chief visits New York, backs broadband plan --
National Grange President Edward Luttrell lauded the Federal Communications Commission for releasing the National Broadband Plan, which Grange officials hope will extend high-speed Internet to farms, homes and small businesses in rural locations.
Luttrell, a native of Sandy, Ore., whose offices are based at the National Grange building in Washington, D.C., visited the Mayfield Grange Hall on Phelps Street on Friday to address members of the Mayfield and Perthshire Grange groups as part of a national tour that began March 6 and will end Aug. 28. The National Grange is a 142-year-old rural-advocacy organization affiliated with local grange halls in rural communities across the country.
Luttrell spoke about the ties between modern communication technology and the Grange's dedication to civic responsibility. A public and private effort rooted in the new FCC plan to extend broadband technology to rural areas could open doors to online education, the ability to work from home and telemedicine, Luttrell said.
According to a news release from the Grange, one in 10 rural Americans cannot get broadband Internet where they live. Luttrell said about 80 percent of suburban Americans use broadband technology which has contributed to more open elections and direct communication with elected officials.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $7.2 billion in funding intended to "accelerate broadband deployment in unserved, underserved and rural areas," according to the Federal Communications Commission's Web site about the plan, www.broadband.gov.
The plan encompasses that funding and many other initiatives proposed by other federal agencies to improve high-speed communications infrastructure nationwide.
Broadband Internet access is available through private communications companies in the Glove Cities and most - but not all - of Fulton County's rural communities.
Luttrell also spoke about the organization's national budget and made suggestions for structuring a successful Grange organization on the community level.
Matthew Jenne, a member of a Chenango County group, traveled more than two hours to meet Luttrell.
"It's an honor," he said. "I'm most excited to hear about rural broadband. We have broadband at my house, but there are many locations in Chenango County that don't have that-or a lot of other things."
Jenne said being a Grange member gives one a direct voice to elected officials.
"Sometimes it means more to legislators hearing [a message] from someone from the Grange," Jenne said.
Darlene Frederick has been a member of the Perthshire Grange since 1966. Martha Mae Phillips has been a member of the group since 1936. Both said their membership brings them together with other members of the community.
New York State Grange Master Oliver Orton, based in Cortland, said he recommended Luttrell visit Fulton County on his national speaking tour because its Grange groups are somewhat isolated from others in the state.
"I chose Granges that are off the beaten path," Orton said. "We've got to start sharing with the other groups and I wanted to go to Fulton County."
Mayfield Grange No. 683 Master David Newkirk said the local Grange has never hosted a meeting with national officials before at its Grange Hall, which was built in 1937.
Newkirk said the group is accepting new members, and though the Grange is known as an agricultural group, members do not have to be in the farming industry.
"We're for all people and all things community," Newkirk said. The group provides third-grade students with dictionaries and provides other community services including suppers such as the one scheduled for Sunday at 4 p.m. at the Grange Hall.
There are about 2500 Granges in 36 states.