The 2018 farm bill required the Federal Communications Commission and USDA to develop a task force to improve broadband and identify gaps in coverage. They’ve made progress, but many farmers and agribusinesses are concerned that the agencies are still lagging behind.
Companies like John Deere and CNH Industrial, the parent company of Case IH and New Holland, are closely watching broadband development.
Dan Danford, global industry relations manager at CNH Industrial, said the company understands the future of agriculture production depends on rural broadband.
“It’s not only fundamental to us but fundamental to our customers that rural broadband infrastructure continues to be fortified and built,” Danford told Agri-Pulse.
Danford said satellite and digital technology that relies on rural broadband is critical for farmers to get more production out of their acres, but spotty coverage has a tremendous impact.
John Deere and CNH are both members of the Association of Equipment Manufacturers. On its website, the group says rural broadband deployment across cropland does not meet the needs of production agriculture, such as farm machinery. AEM would like to see rural wireless coverage expanded.
Last week, the Federal Communications Commission announced a $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund available over 10 years to build out high-speed internet. The commission plans to establish this fund at its meeting later this month.
NTCA-The Rural Broadband Coalition applauded the funding initiative, which FCC estimates could serve 6 million rural homes and businesses. NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield pointed in particular to a provision requiring the commission to go for the higher-speed applicant when the “clearing price” is reached for the auction.
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In other words, once the bids don’t exceed the amount of available funding and “there is more than one bid to serve the same area, the bidder in the faster-speed tier would be declared the winner,” the FCC said.
Mike Romano, NTCA senior vice president of industry affairs and business development, called that provision “the linchpin” in the order being considered by the commission.
In advance of its Jan. 30 meeting, the commission put out state-by-state estimates of the number of locations eligible for funding. California tops the list, at 421,000, followed by Texas (381,000), Michigan (286,000), Wisconsin (271,000), Illinois (246,000), and Missouri (236,000).
The commission won’t fund areas in census blocks already served by 25/3 Mbps broadband service, according to FCC maps. FCC has been criticized for using its existing data maps to identify gaps in broadband service, but it said “waiting for the availability of more granular data before moving forward with any part of the [RDOF] would only further disadvantage the millions of Americans that we know do not have access to digital opportunity.”
In addition, the commission said it would “exclude those areas awarded funding through the [USDA’s] ReConnect Program.”
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