Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Farmers join push for better rural broadband

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue met with U.S. Rep. Sean
Duffy and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin after a Rural
Prosperity Forum in Wausau this month. (Photo from Twitter)
Keith Good with Farm Policy News has written an omnibus piece that provides a comprehensive look at the state of rural broadband expansion. Rural broadband access is often lousy, and rural communities need better service to attract businesses, but Good and Sari Lesk of USA Today have a new angle: Farmers want better broadband, too, to better conduct business and monitor crops. "Local farmers, students and broadband industry leaders asked federal officials to boost rural access to quality broadband in a local listening session with the federal agriculture secretary," Lesk reports, on a meeting this month.

The biennial Farm Computer Usage and Ownership Report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service this month added mobile and fiber-optic as forms of internet access farmers could select in surveys. Eight percent said they use fiber-optic and 17 percent said they used mobile. But Digital Subscriber Line was still the most common method, with 29 percent saying they access the internet through that relatively slow method. The survey also began asking farmers if they used a smartphone or tablet for farm business, and 39 percent said they did. Overall, the survey found that 71 percent of farms in the U.S. have internet access, a rate that's higher on farms in the West.
Internet subscription rate by county; click map to enlarge (Wall Street Journal graphic)
Some in Congress and the administration are working to improve rural access. On Aug. 3, federal regulators revamped two subsidy programs that hadn't proved effective in spurring rural broadband expansion, John McKinnon reports for The Wall Street Journal. The article said the Trump administration may address the digital divide in its upcoming infrastructure proposal. Last week Sens. Shelley Capito (R-W.Va.) and Agriculture Committee member Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill to provide grants for broadband in high-need rural areas, Good reports.

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