Rural Broadband Faces Hurdles Despite New Billions


Closing the rural-urban “digital divide” faces numerous hurdles despite billions in new funding by Congress. It’s not just about the money as tens of billions are already in the federal pipeline for rural broadband. But overlapping programs, inaccurate broadband maps, and even disagreements over rural service needs are slowing progress.

University of Virginia’s Christopher Ali followed by former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly on precision Ag provider needs at a recent Senate hearing said, “They’re uploading terabytes of data and doing an incredible amount of soil analysis, oftentimes in real time if possible, the technology is there. They need that ultrafast symmetric upload speeds in order to enable them to make real time decisions about planting.”  “Precision Ag, most of the data can go, it doesn’t have to go at once. It can go at different times, so you don’t have to have upload speeds. And I know there’s interest in expanding the speeds, but there has to be a limitation on how much we can fund.”

Farmer needs also vary. Justin Forde is with cable provider Midco and he says, “A lot of farmers in these days do not want a fiber line to the farm. They want connectivity to the entire farm. In fact, we have a farmer that has two farms, 75 miles apart. He can use fixed wireless technology and get connections to both of those for less than a hundred dollars.”  

Forde argues that running fiber to those two farms wouldn’t be economical for his firm or the federal government.

Separately, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act to expand Ag guest workers legal status was moving through the House, but with little chance of Senate passage, as part of a package of citizenship bills. Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley said, “If we could get it up, all by itself, and it didn’t include citizenship, and if it included things to secure the border, I think it’d be very easy.” 

Republicans are blaming President Biden and Democrats for a recent border surge in illegal immigrants, especially unaccompanied minors, as Democrats renew debate over ending or easing Senate filibuster rules to pass their bills.