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Rural America Needs the Broadband Data Improvement Act

The following opinion piece as published in the Tennessean on August 22, 2019
by Matthew J. McClanahan, Guest columnist 
Rural broadband is critical to support the farmers and ranchers who grow our food, the long-term economic viability of rural communities and the overall quality of life for rural Americans

The Ford Model A rambled, shuddered and lumbered its way down a dusty country road. Driving the car was a man I never met but whose actions have helped me and countless others reach our destinations every single day. Over the course of several years, my great-grandfather, Oscar Denton Little Sr., hauled carloads of concerned citizens from Clarkrange, Tennessee, to Nashville to lobby their elected officials to construct modern roads and highways to serve their rural community. The construction of new and improved roadways meant access to urban markets for farmers and the opportunity for the community to have better access to higher education, health care and jobs.

Today, access to a high-speed, reliable internet connection is just as important as the rural roads my great-grandfather fought so hard to obtain for his community. However, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 1 out of 4 rural Americans still lack this essential access to fixed broadband, compared to 1.7% of urban Americans. Rural broadband is critical to support the farmers and ranchers who grow our food, the long-term economic viability of rural communities and the overall quality of life for rural Americans.
Precision agriculture

Establishing rural broadband creates critical pathways to global markets for agriculture and other industries. Farmers and ranchers depend on broadband just as they do highways, railways and waterways to ship our food, fuel and fiber across the country and around the world. For instance, precision agriculture is a farming management concept that uses satellite and aerial imagery, weather predictions, soil data, topographical mapping and GPS-equipped combine harvesters. Precision agriculture allows farmers to be more efficient, economical and environmentally responsible, but this technology requires mobile broadband coverage, which 29% of U.S. farms have no access to whatsoever.

The Broadband Data Improvement Act (S. 1522) is a bipartisan bill that would improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds to the construction of broadband infrastructure. This bill corrects the current method of gathering data by requiring broadband providers to report data that support the creation of a significantly more accurate, granular and transparent National Broadband Map. With limited funding and an overabundance of need, more granular and accurate maps are critical to successfully target and distribute federal broadband programs. The National Broadband Map is divided in census blocks.

The National Broadband Map

Census blocks for the National Broadband Map are too large in rural and remote areas to accurately target investments. There are 3,200 census blocks in the U.S. that are larger than the District of Columbia and five times larger than the entire state of Connecticut. If even one household in a given census block is reported by a provider as being served, then the entire block is considered served and is therefore likely excluded from eligibility to receive federal funds for broadband build-out. This method negatively affects areas because census blocks larger than 2 square miles comprise more than 64% of the U.S. land area.

Click here to read the rest of the opinion piece.