Legislators Seek to Bridge Digital Furrow

Bill would direct FCC/Ag Department to identify connectivity gaps in farm, ranchland
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In the latest in a legislative flurry of broadband-related items, a bipartisan bill has been introduced in both the House and Senate to promote rural broadband deployment and identify fallow broadband fields in key agricultural sectors.

The bill, the Precision Agricultural Connectivity Act, would require the FCC to create a task force in cooperation with the Department of Agriculture--currently their headquarters are cheek by hog jowl in D.C.--to evaluate the best way to promote broadband for precision agriculture--self-driving tractors, IoT devices, drones for crop assessment, etc.

Related: Broadband Bills Continue to Rain Down From Hill

Reps. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) and Dave Loebsack (D-Iowa), introduced the House version--they are co-chairs of the Rural Broadband Caucus, while Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) introduced the Senate version.

The FCC/Ag Department task force would be asked to:

  • "Identify and measure current gaps in broadband coverage on cropland and ranchland;
  • "Assemble a comprehensive guide of all federal programs or resources dedicated to expanding broadband access on cropland and ranchland;
  • "Develop policy recommendations, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of fixed and mobile high-speed broadband on cropland and ranchland, with the goal of achieving service on 95 percent of croplands and ranchlands in the United States by 2025;
  • "Recommend specific steps the FCC can take to ensure that available farm data from the USDA is reflected in developing Federal programs to deploy broadband to croplands and ranchlands; and
  • "Submit an annual report to Congress detailing the status of fixed and mobile broadband coverage on croplands and ranchlands; the projected future connectivity needs of agricultural operations, farmers, and ranchers; and the steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of high-speed broadband on croplands and ranchlands and the limitations of current measurement processes."

“Precision agriculture technologies are already changing the way American farmers do business,” Sen. Wicker said of the bill. “With increased efficiencies, higher yields, and more information, producers are better equipped to compete globally and provide American consumers with high-quality farm products. Rural broadband expansion is the key to unlocking this revolutionary technology.”

“Precision agriculture has the opportunity to revolutionize this industry in a way that will make farming more efficient, safer, and sustainable,” said Rep. Latta. “Unlike other sectors, most farming is congregated in rural areas where there may be very limited access to high-speed internet that is essential to using IoT, self-driving equipment, and other technology."

"[W]e hope this [bill] will enhance coordinated efforts among programs to promote and sustain rural broadband availability and affordability,” said NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield. "As NTCA’s Smart Rural Community initiative underscores, ensuring sufficient access to broadband services in rural America is a crucial aspect of supporting economic development and production on agriculture land across our country."

"Bringing together the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the FCC and public and private stakeholders to address the needs of precision agriculture ensures current and future generations of farmers and ranchers will have the technology needed to maintain our food security and manage resources efficiently," said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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