Ag groups want rural broadband expansion to be priority

Coalition calls for affordable broadband access in rural communities that's comparable to services provided in urban and suburban areas.

The Agricultural Broadband Coalition (ABC) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to make rural broadband expansion a priority.

ABC brings together farm groups such as the American Soybean Assn., National Corn Growers Assn., Association of Equipment Manufacturers, American Farm Bureau Federation, Deere & Co. and Power & Communication Contractors Assn.

In a letter to FCC, the group underscored how expanded coverage would “address important economic, educational, health care and other societal goals with respect to the nation’s rural communities.”

“Farmers are compelled by long-term demand trends to achieve and sustain unprecedented high levels of productivity by increasing yields and managing inputs with finite amounts of land and water,” the letter stated. “These trends are leading the transformation of U.S. production agriculture into a technology-driven sector increasingly dependent on access to broadband.”

In response to these market dynamics, the people and businesses involved in and dependent on the agriculture sector are intensely interested in expediting the deployment of mobile broadband services to farms and cropland, the letter said. “Wireless service is necessary for farmers and ranchers who use precision agricultural equipment. The wireless connection allows farmers and ranchers to make real-time data transfers that can minimize the amount of necessary seed, fertilizer and pesticides, reduce costs for fuel, labor (and) water and identify best practices for fields in a given location,” ABC wrote.

Access to much of this technology is wholly dependent on the presence of cell towers and other communication infrastructure in areas of the nation’s cropland. Unfortunately, today’s farm machines typically operate in rural areas with little or no cell coverage.

Agricultural, weather, labor and equipment information is changing by the hour, which drives the need for farmers to employ technology that allows them to adjust and optimize operations rapidly. This activity occurs while work is executed in the field, ABC noted, so “high-speed data connections to and among these active field operations in real time is, therefore, necessary to optimize the operation and maximize their opportunities in real time or near real time.”

The coalition wrote in support of the cropland concept referenced in John Deere's comments that in order to address the mobile coverage gap, FCC should consider a metric of broadband access in croplands, as defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's major acres of cropland planted, and should incorporate mobile broadband coverage for agricultural operations into the commission’s Form 477 broadband data collection process. “We urge you to consider a metric of broadband access in croplands (and farm buildings), in addition to road miles, to identify these areas of greatest need,” ABC wrote.

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