Are You Online? Rural Broadband's Creative Troubleshooting
Updated: Jul 1, 2021
It’s long been said that people in rural communities have “no connection to the outside world” – but, when it comes to broadband access, those one-liners aren’t too far off. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 80% of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable high-speed internet are in rural areas.
Missing Out in Agriculture
Alex Thomasson, head of the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Mississippi State University opened the Texas Plant Protection Association’s 2020 annual conference by saying, “Precision agriculture with rural wireless broadband connectivity will enhance growers’ ability to mitigate risk, to make profitable decisions at a finer level of detail, and to respond more quickly to changing conditions…”
From sensor data to weed control to detecting grain loss and crop quality, farmers are blessed with technology that can amass large amounts of data enabling them to make decisions maximizing their yields and profits – but their location might be holding them back from what’s truly possible.
Getting Creative to Get Online
Knowing the potential that lies in precision agriculture – not to mention other rural sectors like healthcare and education – stakeholders across the industry are looking for creative ways to get farmers online. Here are just a few approaches that are being explored:
Low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellites, such as Starlink (a startup company founded by Elon Musk), are intended to provide internet connection for large organizations like governments or “to regions too remote or poor to install [internet coverage] on the ground.” While these systems may rival the speed of the fastest ground network, they also require an extensive network of satellites to create a consistent signal. Learn more about LEO satellites here.
Companies are investing in rural broadband in order to support the communities they operate in. For example, Land O’Lakes partnered with Microsoft to run a pilot program in 2020 to provide free wifi through their network of retail locations.
Farmers are using existing infrastructure, such as grain elevators, to install the antennas and cables necessary to access high-speed broadband service.
USDA offers the Broadband ReConnect Program to provide loans and grants to fund “the costs of construction, improvement or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas.”
While no broadband solution has proven to be the silver bullet for rural communities, continuing to invest in and explore new options is critical to making sure farmers can make full use of the precision technology available. Comment below to let us know what developments you see happening in rural broadband and how this allows you to run your business even more efficiently and profitably.