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Don’t Wait for Rural Broadband

Reliable, affordable connectivity is critical for producers and growers. A recent report from the USDA predicted big returns across the U.S. with precision agriculture, if rural broadband is provided. 

If rural coverage met grower demand, the USDA predicts “the U.S. agriculture industry would realize benefits equivalent to nearly 18 percent of total production.”1 

To see the impact in real-world dollars, the same report says this: 

“USDA’s analysis estimates that connected technologies are poised to transform agricultural production and create a potential $47-$65 billion in annual gross benefit for the United States.”1 

The next disruption in agriculture is in Data and Automation. Decision agriculture uses hyperlocal precision agriculture data to automate processes across an entire operation.  

Before mechanization, hybridization, GMOs, and now precision agriculture, each preceding era was marked by practices that were labor-intensive and impossible to scale. 

Decision agriculture will change the entire ag industry, making operations more efficient and profitable. Yet a lack of connectivity in rural areas is stalling the adoption of decision agriculture, as well as its benefits to producers and the U.S. economy. 

Currently, 24% of rural Americans don’t have broadband coverage 

The FCC defines broadband coverage as a minimum of 25 megabits per second download speeds and 3 Mbps upload speeds. According to their Communications Marketplace Report, “Over 24% of Americans in rural areas…lack coverage from fixed terrestrial 25 Mbps/3 Mbps broadband, as compared to only 1.5% of Americans in urban areas.”2 

What’s worse, these numbers aren’t entirely accurate. In a two-state pilot, CostQuest and USTelecom found that “current broadband-availability data is wrong in 48% of rural census blocks.”3

Forty-eight percent. 

How is it possible that nearly half of broadband data is inaccurate? Thanks to the FCC’s previous reporting rules, an ISP (Internet Service Provider) could report that an entire census block had service, even if just one home in the block had service. Some blocks, especially in rural areas, are larger than 250 square miles. Recently, Microsoft released their own data claiming that 162.8 million people don’t use broadband internet—more than half of Americans.4 Clearly, there’s a disturbing lack of broadband access that predominantly affects rural America. 

Obstacles to rural broadband 

ISPs are resistant to rural broadband for one reason: cost. Service providers say that investing in miles of infrastructure for a low population density means not enough revenue to justify the costs. They often raise rural subscription costs to unreasonable levels. What that means for growers is this: 

  • No available coverage for their cropland exists, or 
  • If coverage is available, it’s prohibitively expensive 

In addition to an unwillingness from the ISPs themselves, the government has been slow to address the rural broadband gap. The FCC estimated that delivering fiber to the remaining households and businesses in the United States would cost $80 billion.5 Realistically, it’s incredibly unlikely Congress will put aside funds equivalent to nearly the entire cost of the Health and Human Services department to ensure fiber coverage across the country. 

So, even amid unaffordable or unavailable rural broadband, how can growers take advantage of decision agriculture? 

Connectivity alternatives to rural broadband 

Growers need to use inputs and equipment efficiently in rural areas, often without direct internet access or even line power. Innovative modifications to existing technology allow for devices that make use of low power, low bandwidth, and very long range: the perfect solution for agriculture’s typically remote operations. 

Thanks to innovative tech, now it’s possible to use precision ag techniques in remote areas — without WiFi or wired internet.  

The answer is scalable connectivity. By connecting precision agriculture equipment through a low-cost platform, growers can get insights from the field without unreasonable costs. R5 Core uses upgraded LoRa technology to connect up to 50 devices to a single cellular data GatewayRather than paying a cellular or satellite subscription for each device, multiple devices are connected to a cellular Gateway, which then sends data to the cloud. 

In conclusion, decision agriculture relies on connectivity to send field data to the cloud reliably. Yet there is no solution in sight to solve rural broadband. ISPs want to keep their costs of operations low, and federal agencies, likewise, are resistant to roll out coverage to the entire population. For the foreseeable future, a lack of rural broadband continues to be the reality for millions of American growers, farmers, and producers. The Connectivity Platform from RealmFive bridges that coverage gap with low-cost, scalable coverage for remote operations and fields. Send us a message to get more information specific to your site.  

 

References 

  1. A Case for Rural Broadband, https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/case-for-rural-broadband.pdf, USDA, April 2019 
  2. FCC, Communications Marketplace Report, p. 131.  
  3. The FCC has no idea how many people don’t have broadband access, https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/08/the-fcc-has-no-idea-how-many-people-dont-have-broadband-access/, Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica, August 22, 2019 
  4. Microsoft Claims Nearly Half of People in the U.S. Don’t Use the Internet at Broadband Speeds, https://gizmodo.com/microsoft-claims-nearly-half-of-americans-dont-use-inte-1833911049, Alex Cranz, Gizmodo, April 9, 2019 
  5. Improving the Nation’s Digital Infrastructure, https://transition.fcc.gov/Daily_Releases/Daily_Business/2017/db0119/DOC-343135A1.pdf, Paul de Sa, January 17, 2017