Barb Wire was said to tame the wild west and end the free range. It was a technological break through that rearranged the way ag was conducted in large stretches of the United States. Barb wire is not alone in sweeping changes to ag. The moldboard plow, the Power Take Off, hydraulics, year-round cabs and GPS all have made dramatic changes to how ag operations perform.
Rural broadband will likely join the above list. The question is, when and will it come quick enough to benefit current operations. The USDA predicts a truly connected rural America could lead to an additional $50 million dollars per year for US Ag.
Broadband is defined as at least 25 megs per second download and 3 Megs upload. While only 1.5% of urban America does not have access to broadband, 24% of rural areas don’t have access to fixed broadband. Making that number worse, some studies say that the true number is nearly 50%. Microsoft says 162.8 Million people don’t have access to broadband and broadband doesn’t solve in field access problems.
A companion service, wireless 5G is a cornucopia of different tech platforms and process that work together to get greater bandwidth to a greater number of handheld and other devices. In addition to cell phones and handheld devices that we are familiar with, 5G will support base station antennas that will connect devices directly, using more of the radio spectrum. Mesh networks are also incorporated which will help data flow from one device to another that works well for devices with steady power and are always on. Field sensors and devices that stay asleep don’t perform well in the mesh. It looks like 5G will be a better boon for urban areas over rural applications.
How did we get there? It used to be acceptable that an internet company could report a census block had access to broadband service if they could show one home in given block had service. In the rural spots, those blocks are up to 250 square miles. One wealthy neighbor who has to have Japanese amine delivered to their door could skew the reporting.
What are the steps that the law is taking to support this growth potential? The FCC has advanced over $20 million in funding for rural broad band connectivity. Specifically, the Rural Digital Opportunity fund is designed to put internet infrastructure in 45 states and over 700,000 homes.
The impact on ag is not only in being able to stream movies like the urban areas and check the markets, but connectivity in the fields is a key component of artificial intelligence applications like automated operations. This is because the intelligence network relies upon cloud-based data and mainframes. Losing service because of connectivity is a dangerous proposition that artificial intelligence operators can’t risk.
As law makers allocate dollars to breach the digital divide, the type of purchase is as important to success of the ag operation as choosing between high tensile, three barb or five barb wire.