Rural WISPS (including MN) get access to 5.9 GHz Spectrum to expedite rural broadband

News Dio reports…

The FCC said Friday that temporary access that is approved for the 33 WISPs will help provide access to telehealth, distance learning and teleworking in rural communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Here are some of the details…

The agency is giving access to the 33 WISPs for 60 days to help them bring broadband to rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Temporary access to the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum in that band is a kind of dry test for the FCC’s plan to free up this part of the 5.9 GHz spectrum for unlicensed use. In December, the agency voted to divide that spectrum band so it could be shared with providers, allocating the lowest 45 megahertz for unlicensed use. The top 30 megahertz is allocated for Qualcomm All Cellular Vehicle Protocol (C-V2X) use.

Senator Klobuchar’s rural broadband goal and Minnesota’s broadband model get nod from Virginia

Roanoke Times reports on all of the presidential candidate’s rural plan; turns out the report on Senator Amy Klobuchar reads like

Rural broadband. This is something everybody is for, Democrats and Republicans alike, so nobody gets points for mentioning rural broadband. That’s a given. Most candidates don’t even bother to mention the dirty details — getting broadband to rural areas is expensive. Warren and Buttigieg have the temerity to offer a pricetag — she says $85 billion; he says $80 billion. By contrast, Trump is in the process of allocating $20 billion, so you can get some sense of scale. Lo, in some ways Klobuchar actually has the boldest rural broadband plan of all. She doesn’t offer a dollar figure but does vow to connect every home to the internet by 2022. That vow would be more credible if she offered a dollar figure — it’s embedded in a larger infrastructure program she prices at $1 trillion — but is still a more specific goal than any other candidate has proposed. Who would have guessed that Klobuchar, who has pitched her moderation as a selling point, would actually be the most radical on rural broadband?

Klobuchar’s 2022 date may be either a stroke of technological daring — or a copy-and-paste job. Her home state has set a 2022 goal for making sure everyone in Minnesota has rural broadband. Minnesota’s ambitious rural broadband goal has been a model for other states — Ralph Northam cited it during his 2017 campaign for governor. For Minnesota, the “broadband for all” program is part of an economic development strategy backed by both parties to try to turn the state into a technology capital. Now, here’s the problem: That’s a lot easier to do in flat Minnesota than in, oh, let’s say, the mountains of Appalachia. Klobuchar’s 2022 date would be a stretch, but let’s give her points for her moonshot approach (assuming, of course, some staffer simply didn’t steal Minnesota’s goal without thinking through the details).

It’s a nod to the work done in Minnesota and to Senator Klobuchar’s priority on broadband. I might offset the challenge of mountains with the challenge or size. Virginia at 42,775 miles squared is about half the size in Minnesota (86,943 miles squared). Every state has a different set as assets and challenges! We see that even regionally in Minnesota from sturdy terrain of aptly named Rock County, to the Northern Woods to the challenge of 10,000 lakes.

Broadband can meet the needs of emerging farmers and long standing rural residents to encourage rural growth

Today I attended the Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division meeting. I was hoping they might talk more about the Dep of Ag emerging farmers report but I got an interesting overview on hemp, research on ag versus rural economy and emerging farmers. Not as much broadband as I usually like – but an interesting glimpse at ag issues.

According to the State Demographer, Minnesota is diversifying. The percentage of people of color is projected to grow from 14 percent in 2005 to 25 percent by 2035. Also in 2035, the age 65+ group is expected to eclipse the under 18 population for the first time in Minnesota history. The 65+ group will rely on the tax base of the smaller, younger demographic. That’s a challenge. Balance that with the Demographer’s 2017 report (Greater Minnesota: Refined & Revisited,) that outlines differences between rural, urban, small town, larger town counties…

This report also reveals that many Minnesota counties are on the cusp of a new era of slowing or negative natural change, and will be more reliant on migration if they are to grow in the future. Future migration patterns, however, are more challenging to anticipate than natural change, as they are dependent on numerous variable factors—federal immigration policy, local and state economic conditions, changes in how and where workers work, and personal lifestyle preferences.

In short, the State demographer says that rural counties that want to grow need to be welcoming to new Americans. And if they want a strong tax base, they’ll want to entice young people. I’ve seen similar concepts and recommendations outlined in the Thriving by Design work from Growth and Justice. But there’s always a tension in change.

Listening to the emerging farmers, who include the demographic that a county needs to grow, they are pushing against some resistance or at least blindness to their needs. Even hearing about the hemp industry, it’s clear that a new approach to hemp is battling with old regulations and prejudices of marijuana.

It reminds me of when my oldest daughter was 15. She wanted to be a grownup. I wanted her to be a grownup. But we had different ideas of what that meant and how to get there. She’s 21 now and we’re a lot closer on our definitions but there were some heated conversations. I loved, especially during those dark years, when there was easy agreement.

Broadband availability is listed as a top theme in the emerging farmer report. It is a likely point of easy agreement because broadband extends beyond the needs of “emerging” farmers. For established farmers, broadband can support telehealth and help people stay at home. For non-farmers (The Center for Rural Policy started by talking about their nascent research on rural versus farm economy. They early observation seemed to find that the rural economy is larger than the farm economy.), broadband is a tool that supports economic development and education.

Broadband is a point of agreement. Broadband is a tool that helps everyone. Broadband is inherently useful but also useful as a way to unify the needs of new and “old” Minnesotans.

U.S. Senators Smith, Rounds, Fischer & Baldwin Host Bipartisan Rural Working Group Meeting in Washington

Big news on how Senator Smith and others are working with bipartisan leaders on rural issues…

Today, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)—leaders of the Bipartisan Senate Rural Working Group—hosted a kickoff event with rural leaders and stakeholders in Washington. The group, co-chaired by Sens. Smith and Rounds, seeks to connect people and organizations with ties to rural communities who want to help address the many unique challenges that often hit rural areas hard. The group also aims to identify successful ideas and partnerships to spur efforts to restore economic prosperity in rural communities across the country.
“I’ve been to rural communities and Tribal areas across Minnesota, and I’ve seen how leaders and organizations are coming together to do unique and innovative things to not only create jobs and economic development, but also tackle local problems,” said Sen. Smith. “At a time when you often only hear about the economic hardship in rural communities, I’ve been inspired by the spirit, resilience, and ingenuity of the people I’ve met in rural areas of Minnesota. I was so inspired that I decided to create a bipartisan Senate group aimed at highlighting what’s working in rural America, and I’m pleased to be joined by my colleagues and dozens of advocates who share that same goal.”

“South Dakota is a large, rural state. The Bipartisan Rural Working Group seeks to address the unique challenges facing rural areas, such as access to high-speed internet, health care, lending services and more. The success of rural America is vital for our long-term health and prosperity. I look forward to working with Sens. Smith, Fischer and Baldwin to advance the priorities of rural America in the Senate,” said Sen. Rounds.“Rural communities can’t be left behind and Washington must do a better job of helping them move forward. We need to do more to support the family farmers that drive the rural economy forward,” said Sen. Baldwin. “The federal government needs to step up and make investments that will expand rural broadband access, rebuild water infrastructure, increase affordable housing opportunities and support rural health facilities that are on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic. I’m excited to work with my colleagues to launch the new Bipartisan Rural Working Group to find common ground on solutions that will show rural America that Washington is working with them, and for them.”
“The heartland is not flyover country. It’s full of wonderful, selfless people who help feed and fuel the world. Those of us who live in rural America already know this, but we need to show Washington that our families, communities, innovators, and businesses are worth the investment. I am excited to participate in this bipartisan working group to develop solutions for rural America,” said Sen. Fischer.
At today’s meeting, advocates from a variety of different issues areas—including education, health care, agriculture, and housing—shared priorities for a stronger rural economy. You can access pictures from the event here.


Land O’Lakes’ Beth Ford promotes broadband to Economic Club of Minnesota

MPR News reports…

[Beth] Ford, who has headed the 99-year-old cooperative [Land O’Lakes] since 2018, called on more investment in broadband, education and health care. She said her company was even planning to launch a half-dozen rural “service centers” to aggregate high-speed internet, telemedicine and other amenities.

“Every business is a digital business now, every business is a technology business, and agriculture is one of the last sectors to be disrupted,” Ford said. “Especially by e-business and technology.”

She mentions agriculture and mental health…

Networked technology can help bring farming and food production back to profitability, she said, but it isn’t sufficiently available. She said that of the 24 million people who lack access to broadband technology, 19 million are in rural America.

That’s putting food producers at a disadvantage: not just in terms of the technology in their tractor cabs, but in the schools their kids attend, the clinics where they seek medical and mental health care and in the markets where they could find innovations in marketing and distribution, Ford said.

She talks about how big business can help in the community…

She called broadband access a $150 billion problem, and suggested it should be a national priority like rural electrification in the 1930s.

Ford also said Land O’ Lakes was talking to leaders from Microsoft, Amazon and other companies about direct action in some of the more than 7,000 communities where her cooperative has a presence.

“What we want to do is to directly be a convener. To take over a storefront if we can,” she said. “Drop a line in, get some high-speed internet. Have some boosters, have four or five work stations, where kids can access technology to do their homework… take Advanced Placement courses. Where they can pick up fresh groceries.”

Broadband helps agriculture more efficient – helps the environment

Agri Pulse reports…

These are the telltale signs of climate change challenges, but they can be met head-on with the kind of data that advanced broadband can deliver – when it’s available.

Today’s high-tech farming depends on data – from remote sensors, from tractors, irrigation equipment, nutrient application machinery, and harvesters that communicate. Sensors and tracking devices around a modern farm can pump out readings from soil moisture to fertilizer needs to climate conditions inside a chicken house.

The possibilities for productivity improvement, budget efficiencies, environmental benefits and the ability to respond to continually changing growing conditions are endless, but as one technologically-sophisticated farmer, Trey Hill of Harbor View Farmers, told one of us recently, “we generate a lot of data, we just don’t have the means to transport it.”

Turns out some folks are running their farms on off cell phones…

Trey operates his ten-thousand-acre farm – an operation often described as not only technologically sophisticated but environmentally so – on a cell network. He reaps huge benefits from his technology, turning on irrigation from his cell phone thus saving water and applying fertilizer only where he needs it, saving money and ending over use that is neither financially nor environmentally sustainable. But at what cost? Trey and other farmers are subject to giant cell phone bills and they are unable to access their technologies on fields that are remote and without cell coverage.

Another friend of ours in rural Maryland spends as much as $1,000 per month to run his agricultural operations off of a mobile cellular network.

They need better…

The lack of broadband in rural America isn’t a mystery. As best as the government can tell, less than 60% of rural America has access to broadband at 100 Mbps download speed; a typical speed – not even exceptionally fast – in other parts of the nation.

Moreover, not all internet access is advanced broadband. The USDA reported in 2019 that 22% of farmers used DSL technology, which is old and slow compared to what most Americans can access. Twenty-six percent of farms used satellite, which has broad coverage but tends to be more expensive and not as technically advanced. And three percent (more than 40,000 farms) still use dial-up, which was the go-to internet technology of the early 1990s.

So, it’s not just any old broadband that agriculture needs – it’s high-performance broadband.

Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford on rural broadband

Yahoo Finance reports on Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford conversation with  journalist Jessica Yellin at the 2020 Upfront Summit…

This week, the Federal Communications Commission approved a $20.4 billion program that could give six million rural homes and businesses access to high-speed broadband. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai calls the initiative the “boldest step yet to bridge this [digital] divide,” but the CEO of one of the largest dairy cooperatives said it’s simply not enough.

“It’s not that that’s nothing. I mean, that’s real money. But it’s inadequate. And then I meet constantly with governors, and they’re putting something- 10 million in the budget or 20 million… And it feels like we’re in the couch looking for the quarters and nickels. And that’s not going to get us there. It is going to make us uncompetitive as a nation. We cannot just leave these communities behind,” Land O’Lakes chief executive Beth Ford said in an interview Thursday at the Upfront Summit in Pasadena, California.