Precision farming among needs as federal funds flow to high-speed fiber projects

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Thursday’s ReConnect announcement included $141.5 million in loans and $360.4 million in grants. This is ReConnect’s third funding round to date, totaling $858 million.

While internet in rural communities has improved, reaching the farm has been a bigger challenge. Some of the ReConnect projects funded on Thursday specifically detail routing fiber to the farm “premise”.

Often, precision agriculture consultants connect to the internet at a farmer’s office, but Vanden Berge said that in many cases the internet often doesn’t work any better than a poor cell signal either.

“There’s no doubt that some of them have pretty decent service depending on where they are, but for the majority of them, the internet coming into their homes is somewhat limited,” Vanden Berge said. . “I would say around 80% of them have what I would consider very marginal service.”

Producers may have an internet connection good enough to browse the web, but not good enough for data transfer to transfer files to machines. Often Vanden Berge will have to go somewhere else, download the material and come back. Some farmers have fiber optic services, and these farmers can operate online at a much higher level.

Vanden Berge also spoke of a rancher in Nebraska who purchased her property in part because she knew she had the fiber optic capabilities she needed for her job.

“I’m surprised when I see that, and that speed is phenomenal, but I think that’s a rare case more than the status quo,” Vanden Berge said.

Speaking of ReConnect projects, Vilsack pointed to a few projects, such as one in three western Colorado counties receiving nearly $14 million to expand access to 3,577 people, 148 businesses, and 765 farms. Another project in Mississippi will receive $22 million in grants

A Mississippi project includes a $22 million grant affecting approximately 9,700 families, 92 businesses and 310 farms in a four-county region.

Another project in Alaska will spend $33 million to connect 211 people and five businesses. Although the costs are high, the secretary said, “It’s a small number of people, but the reality is that it shows and indicates the commitment ‘to providing broadband to’ all Americans, no matter how or where they live or how far their home may be”. be.”

Greg Puckett, commissioner for Mercer County, West Virginia, and chair of the National Counties Association’s rural caucus, said broadband “is imperative” for rural communities. Communities without such access are limited in economic development and socio-economic equality, he said.

“Without access to high-speed internet, many of our rural and underserved communities are increasingly isolated and left behind,” Puckett said. He added: “What it does in many ways is help build relationships as well as infrastructure.”

The USDA funding announcement comes a week after the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on broadband and committee leaders criticized the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for refusing to testify. The lawmakers said the NTIA and FCC showed “indifference to rural America” ​​and a lack of coordination with the USDA.

Vilsack said Wednesday that USDA staff hold regular meetings between the USDA, FCC and Commerce Department to coordinate and ensure funding for the ReConnect program does not overlap with the FCC’s work.

“We’re trying to make sure we have a good, accurate read of gaps in coverage,” Vilsack said. “I think we work collaboratively and closely together.”

For a list of ReConnect projects, go to https://www.usda.gov/….

See also “Fix the Broadband Map” at https://www.dtnpf.com/….

Chris Clayton can be reached at [email protected]

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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