US House Agriculture Committee finds that rural Infrastructure includes transportation, water and broadband!

US House Agriculture Committee finds that rural Infrastructure includes transportation, water and broadband!

The Worthington Globe highlights the House Agriculture Committee last week including the need for non-transportation infrastructure – water and broadband…

“A strong rural infrastructure is necessary for our rural areas to remain vital but our rural economy faces unique infrastructure challenges,” U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said as the House Agriculture Committee discussed the topic on Wednesday, July 19. …

Transportation always comes to mind when infrastructure is mentioned, and it is important to rural America. But it is not just highway transportation for rural residents. Farmers also depend on water transportation to get their products to market, and more and more they need better high-speed internet connections, known as broadband, to compete.

“It’s surprising to a lot of folks but broadband access is lacking in many of these areas,” Peterson said.

It was a good reminder to be to watch the archive of the meeting:

One warning – the sound is intermittent at least for the first 30 minutes. They fixed it after that. I’m just going to post rough highlights I caught as I listened – and I’ve tried to include the time when helpful. I’ve also highlighted the parts I found most interesting.

Representative Peterson notes that we need sustaining funds for broadband – something like the universal service funds. (10 min)

The Farm Credit System pointed out that nearly 40 percent of rural America doesn’t have broadband – at FCC definition. (I wrote about his talk earlier.)

Grain and Feed Association – America used to be in the Top Ten internationally – we aren’t any more. (He was talking about water ways – but still a note on lack of investment in rural areas.)

Rural Electric Cooperative Association – Electric loan was what we did for so long. RUS has provided electricity and reliably paid back loans. We need broadband now too. We are investing $4 million in our area on fiber. Our immediate needs are making our internal operations more efficient and secure. But once that network is in place we could open it up to our members – for local business and residents. We need multiple to tools to spread broadband. We don’t have a profit motive, which has helped us help members to be smart energy users. (40 min)

Rural Broadband Association – broadband makes the rural way of life possible. But it’s expensive. We average 1.4 customers per square mile. Small rural telecom providers have been deploying broadband with the support from federal loans. Without loans, we could expand or continue. Rural broadband will require continued investment from the feds to make a plausible business case. Without broadband, rural folks don’t have access to the same opportunities. The high cost program works but it needs to be better funded. Without that money projects will see deterred broadband expansion, increased fees for customers and stalled existing programs.  (min 44)

Get a recap of the USF at min 55 and hear about how/why to transition that fund from voice to broadband.

Rep Peterson talks (min 60) – MTA says for $200M a year we could get broadband. But Rural Broadband just said $110M. The reason is there are two paths – One includes modeling. The tools are underfunded and projects are not happening. And $200/$110M is to maintain not to build new broadband. BUT USF was maintained via tax on landlines. But broadband isn’t taxed.

We have some cooperatives doing an awesome job. We have other areas where the big providers have abandoned them. We have one area where the county wanted to get broadband – but the large incumbents challenged the project and so it didn’t get done. Big providers aren’t only not serving rural areas – they are stopping others from serving them.

Rep Scott (min 107) – Price Cap providers sometimes take grants and don’t follow through with service – they effectively close out those areas from other providers. So the companies take the money, don’t serve intended areas and make it hard for others to serve those areas.

Rep Crawford (min 115) – SO we need to help support building broadband and maintaining it? That’s like buying the horse and feeding it? Why does a rural area need that? Because there isn’t a business case to serve areas with so few customer per square mile. Providers need the financial support and predictable income.

Rep Plasket (min 130) – how do you persuade private investment? Population density matters Types of businesses matters. Specifics of the location matters. Some folks need more public funding than others due to lower population density. Cobank can help. There are private companies providing services.

Does Dep of Ag need to address poor broadband and how? Speeds are an issue. Fiber is future proof. What the FCC calls broadband isn’t really fast enough to do everything we want to do. The FCC has some tools in place but it needs more money.

Rep Allen (min 134) – recently I planted peanuts without touching the dirt. We need to connect rural America and all those if agribusiness. Answer – we used fixed wireless where we have to – but those customers use a huge amount of data and a wireless network cannot handle that over long distances. You need fiber to the towers. We would like to cooperate and leverage existing networks. Agribusiness has huge data needs.

Rep Panetta (min 140) – specialty crop needs lots of attention. We don’t have enough workers. Mechanization would help but mechanization requires broadband. Right – mechanization increases productivity exponentially and inability to transport huge amounts of data are not helping. Software needs to download. Troubleshooting happens remotely and data drives the action. Agribusiness needs broadband. Information is key to ag success these days. Only people with the bandwidth get the info.

Rep Dunn (min 186) We need better maps. There are none that are accurate. What technologies will serve rural areas? People are talking about future technologies such as satellite. BUT that won’t serve the data needs. Those may work on the very last mile but not for middle mile. Big providers don’t’ want to build to the remote areas – but they think that satellite will work. Satellite has issues with weather and latency. The technology is just not there yet.

Rep O’Hallern (min 200) urban and rural are interdependent. What’s the cost benefit analysis of broadband to both areas and sharing needs/ assets? The Hudson institute did a study said telecom brought $24 million into the economy and much of that goes to urban areas. Yes but we need the impact of economic development. We need a report that looks at the ROI on rural broadband based on cost saving and earning in rural areas.

Rep LaMafla (min 207) streamlining processes would be a saving – especialy with federal and state permitting.

Rep Kuster (min 211) how can we get people to understand the need for broadband in rural areas and in agriculture. We just created some processes and tools to support rural areas – but we need the funding.

Rep Kuster (min 223) asks how to support greater bipartisan funding to USF.

Rep Yoho (min 231) How can we build for the future? Fiber is future proof. Older networks are already obsolete.

 

This entry was posted in Conferences, Policy, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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