The following was published by AgFunder News on February 27, 2019
by Lauren Manning
While broadband offers connectivity for rural dwellers in their homes, it may not bridge the technology divide between tech-hungry farmers and their inability to send or receive data from the most remote acres of their operations.
Only 58% of households in rural American communities have broadband access as of January 2018, according to new research from the Pew Institute. Broadband adoption grew rapidly between 2000 and 2010, but connectivity has grown sporadically since then. For broadband companies, the cost of installing miles and miles of fiber optic cable underground, compared to the handful of subscribers that they may gain in low population density areas, just doesn’t pencil out.
For rural areas that have been connected to broadband, the services can be expensive, unreliable, or subject to data caps that hamstring its useability.
There’s good reason for internet-less farmers to be kicking and screaming about their lack of connectivity.
A growing number of precision ag tools allow farmers to gain deeper insights into their farming operations through in-field sensors, satellite imagery, and data analytics, but if a farmer cannot connect these in-field sensors and other hardware devices to the cloud where data is stored and transmitted, then the solution is an automatic non-starter.
Tech offerings that farmers could miss out on include sensors that can detect mastitis in dairy cows, and remote weather data stations and drone-captured high-resolution satellite images that can tell farmers whether they’re applying the right amount of inputs, whether pest or disease is imminent, and how much yield they should anticipate. Applied properly, the decision support that precision ag tools offer can help farmers make more money while using resources more efficiently.
Independent broadband company coalition Dakota Carrier Network is taking matters into its own hands. The coalition has invested over $100 million per year in the last decade to create broadband infrastructure, while broadband services company Midco has also helped move the needle in the Upper Midwest portion of the state.
Both companies recently acknowledged broadband’s limitations at the Precision Ag conference, however, suggesting that fixed wireless, which transmits wireless coverage throughout the air at reasonable speed and reliability, could be a viable solution to expand connectivity from the couch to the field.
A number of farmers and members of rural communities have also decided to get proactive about addressing their lack of connectivity, banding together to create innovative solutions and workarounds. And some of these efforts are working.
The White House is Making Moves
Aware of the lack of rural connectivity, President Trump issued two executive orders that were intended to remove some of the red tape preventing broadband infrastructure construction by giving private companies access to government radio towers and properties and cutting down on the paperwork that private companies have to complete to get approval to build internet.
Has the Trump Administration made good on its promise to make rural Americans a bigger priority? Earlier this month it released an update on its American Broadband Initiative. According to its findings, the USDA is preparing to spend $600 million on an innovative broadband pilot program that will prioritize bringing broadband to rural areas. You can read more about the project here.
A pair of Senators from North Dakota and Minnesota also recently introduced a bill that would create the Office of Rural Broadband. The proposed agency would be responsible for helping coordinate relevant federal agencies’ efforts to address gaps in broadband service while reducing barriers to deploying connectivity.
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