Even food needs better broadband – well farmers need to growing food efficiently and sustainably

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society has just released an important look at The Future of American Farming Demands Broadband. They start by making the case that farmers need broadband is to be more efficient and the environment needs it to support sustainability. I suspect most readers here understand (or live) that, so I’ll cut to some of the answers they provide based on various facets of farming…

The Farm Office
How do we ensure that farmers get reliable, symmetrical broadband service?

● Establish future-proof performance standards: To meet the growing demand among farmers for both upstream and downstream speeds, networks must be capable of 100/100 Mbps service.

● Clarify rules around easements and rights of way: State governments can address legal uncertainty around easements and rights of way, which can slow deployment and increase costs, particularly for electric cooperatives.

Incentivize build-out to the operations center: Broadband funding programs can reward applicants that deploy broadband to the operations center of the farm and other critical farm buildings.

● Support open-access, middle-mile networks: Middle-mile deployment can pack a powerful punch by bringing scalable, fiber-based connections deep into rural communities while also lowering the cost of last-mile deployment for private providers.

The Field
How can we address the special connectivity demands of farms?
● Adopt high-performance standards: Performance standards for upload speeds and latency should reflect the changing needs of farmers for precision agriculture.
● Encourage deep fiber build-out: Fiber build-out in rural America, even if not directly to the farm, will be needed to support capable wireless connections for higher-bandwidth applications in the field.
● Address gaps in mapping on farmland: Broadband maps should include mobile coverage on agricultural lands. The underlying data that informs these maps must be available to the public.
● Advocate for interoperability and privacy standards: Without better coordination about interoperability and privacy standards, farmers may be less willing to adopt precision agriculture technologies.
● Adjust spectrum award mechanisms to reward farmland coverage: Spectrum auctions can adopt geographic coverage requirements in some rural agricultural areas to encourage deployment on farmland.

The Community
How do we connect the communities that farms rely upon?
● Adopt comprehensive state broadband plans: State plans that encompass all aspects of a broadband strategy—including deployment, competition, and digital equity—are best suited to meeting states’ regional economic development and other goals.
● Support digital equity programs at the state and local levels: Digital equity programs led by state and local governments and backed by federal funding can work with communities to help people make full use of broadband connections.
● Encourage local planning and capacity building: Federal and state funding can encourage local planning and capacity building, which may include developing local or regional broadband strategies and applying for federal broadband grants.
● Implement accountability measures: Federal funding programs for broadband deployment that include strong accountability measures ensure that providers hit their deployment goals.
● Encourage local, community-oriented providers: Federal programs that support broadband can encourage entry from more broadband providers, including cooperative and community[1]based solutions.
● Facilitate federal, tribal, state, and local coordination: All levels of government should work together as partners to create opportunities for collaboration.
● Coordinate efforts of federal agencies: A coordinated effort between federal agencies will allow those agencies to synergize their respective expertise and meet the distinct needs of farmers.

I appreciate the collection of statistics and the frontline stories that give a clear picture of what life is like for farmers in rural America. Each town, farm and person’s perspective may be different based on where they are, what they are doing and even season or time of day but it’s very likely that whatever they are experiencing is different that what folks in urban areas experience. Through examples, theygive some quick lessons on fixed-wireless (pg 9), middle mile (pg 11), cooperatives (pg 12), Starlink (pg 14) and more.

They even give a nice nod to what’s happening in Minnesota and Blandin’s role in the success…

Public and private leadership working in tandem in Minnesota
One of the earliest state grant programs, Minnesota’s Border-to[1]Border Broadband Development Grant Program, was created in 2014 to assist localities, private providers, nonprofits, and cooperatives in building out broadband infrastructure in Greater Minnesota. The program funds up to 50 percent of the cost of a last-mile or middle[1]mile broadband project, including planning, permitting, construction, and installation costs. Since its inception, Border-to-Border has connected more than 56,000 homes, businesses, and anchor institutions to broadband. The eventual goal of the program is universal, “border-to[1]border” broadband coverage across Minnesota. The state plans to achieve universal 25/3 Mbps coverage by the end of 2022 and universal 100/20 Mbps coverage by the end of 2026.

Working in tandem with state broadband efforts, the Blandin Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to building healthy, inclusive rural communities in Minnesota, has partnered with dozens of rural communities to help them get and use better broadband. Participating communities work through a proven process to define their technology goals and measure current levels of broadband access and use. They receive technical assistance and grant funding to implement projects that help close the digital divide and take advantage of the extraordinary benefits of a broadband-enabled economy.

Communities that have participated in the Blandin Broadband Communities program have earned themselves a seat at the table of broadband planning. Having done the work of assessing what they have, what they want, and what they are willing to contribute to a possible project, they have a voice in what broadband solution is “good enough” for their communities.

Nearly half of the network feasibility studies commissioned by Blandin community partners and funded by the foundation have been either fully or partially built. Participating communities have dramatically increased the presence of free, publicly available internet access in libraries, public parks, downtown areas, and township halls, and have distributed more than 2,300 refurbished computers to income[1]qualifying residents in participating rural communities across Minnesota. Communities also have implemented a variety of digital literacy programs for local residents and businesses. They have spurred more sophisticated use of technology through education, training, community events, learning circles, and innovative partnerships—a total of 292 projects that address community technology goals.
Local governments and other entities across the state have endorsed and adopted Minnesota’s Broadband Vision, first articulated at a 2015 Blandin Broadband conference: “Everyone in Minnesota will be able to use convenient, affordable, world-class broadband networks that enable us to survive and thrive in our communities and across the globe.” This vision inspired the creation of the Minnesota Rural Broadband Coalition, which unites dozens of broadband champions from across the state to sustain broad, bipartisan support for Minnesota’s broadband grant program.
Blandin’s work in Minnesota illustrates the benefits of public and private leadership working in tandem. Investing in the capacity of communities to name and claim their own broadband vision helps to maximize public benefit from public investments such as state grant programs.

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