U.S. Senators Call for Renewed Federal Commitment to Rural Broadband Expansion
On July 11, twenty-eight senators, including Senator Angus King of Maine, urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to renew its commitment to rural broadband expansion with new funding. The group submitted a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler emphasizing the positive connection between reliable rural broadband and growth in the rural agriculture industry.
“Mobility is essential for new precision agriculture technologies to deliver productivity gains and environmental sustainability,” the letter states, referring specifically to mobile internet connectivity. “These technologies are transforming U.S. agriculture as American farmers and ranchers seek to feed, fuel, and clothe an ever-increasing global population using limited land, water, and other resources” .
The senators expressed concern that inadequate internet coverage in rural areas would stunt agricultural projects, since rural farmers are not able to take advantage of internet connected agricultural equipment without reliable internet service. This equipment includes innovations like calving sensors and weather sensors for predictive analytics that maximize farm productivity.
In 2015, agricultural technology innovators raised $4.6 billion in funds for a wide range of projects, many involving internet connected technology . High profile investors, including Google Ventures, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, see a profitable future in agricultural technology.
In their letter, however, senators pointed out that, by the FCC’s own measure, 87% of rural Americans lack access to a mobile broadband connection with a download speed of at least 10 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 1 Mbps. That’s 52.2 million people, many of whom work in the agricultural industry, that do not have a fast, reliable internet connection.
The letter does not even touch on the FCC’s own definition of “broadband” – a connection with a download speed of at least 25 Mbps and an upload speed of at least 3 Mbps – which effectively zero people in rural areas have access to.
Although there are several viable rural internet options – mobile broadband, satellite internet, and dial-up – senators urged action on mobile broadband expansion exclusively. Mobile broadband has the greatest potential speeds of any rural internet option, so investing in strengthening and expanding 4G LTE and 3G networks in rural areas is the most effective way to expand rural internet access.
Mobile broadband is, even now, the fastest rural internet option by user experience. America’s 3G networks have a download speed of between 1 and 4 Mbps and an upload speed of about 1 Mbps. America’s 4G LTE networks have a download speed of between 5 and 12 Mbps and an upload speed of between 2 and 5 Mbps.
The second fastest option, satellite internet, is technically faster, but has a slower user experience due to very high lag time (up to thirty times higher than mobile broadband).
Satellite networks have download speeds of between 5 and 15 Mbps and upload speed of between 1 and 2 Mbps.
In their letter, senators specifically asked Wheeler to rework Phase II of the USF’s Mobility Fund to increase their commitment to rural broadband expansion. While the FCC and the USDA have already invested over $260 billion in mobile broadband expansion in the last seven years, the senators’ pleas show we still have a long way to go towards universal coverage .
 King Calls on FCC to Close Rural Broadband Gap. Available at: http://www.king.senate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/-king-calls-on-fcc-to-close-rural-broadband-gap  AgTech Investing Report – 2015. Available at: https://agfunder.com/research/agtech-investing-report-2015  USDA Announces Funding for Rural Broadband Projects. Available at: http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdamediafb?contentid=2015/07/0212.xml&printable=true&contentidonly=true