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NEED FOR SPEED: Too many places in rural America don’t have access to reliable broadband. Keeping pressure on lawmakers can lead to change, just as it did in the 1930s when rural electric cooperatives were formed.

Broadband seems pretty narrow in my neighborhood

From the Farmhouse Window: It’s a busy world, and ag can no longer be left out of the broadband loop.

Complete frustration in western Pennsylvania describes the experience of trying to work from home with the internet service that’s available.

Just reading emails is nearly impossible. The message “no internet service” periodically appears and then disappears with only text appearing in the email. Even personal messages aren’t coming through.

I recently upgraded my computer to a solid-state hard drive and additional memory. The technician said that, as long as we were using DSL (digital subscriber line) from the phone company, our “broadband” would be lacking. He said that the phone company is no longer upgrading its copper wire system. Instead, they’re focused on their fiber optic system that’s only available in high population areas. It isn’t available here.

Cable is available to a few folks on the main road, but that provider doesn’t think that an additional 10 customers is financially viable enough for them to bring the service down our road. Most of the folks in my neighborhood have satellite television, so even if the cable company ran wires, they would have a hard time getting television customers.

This is completely unacceptable. Efforts are being made at both the national and state levels to evaluate the service that’s available in rural areas. The Federal Communications Commission considers an entire geographic area as having broadband even if just the local school or government building has broadband but no one else does. It’s an inaccurate system. There are towers for cell phone service in my area, but they don’t provide internet service to homes and small businesses.

In today’s world, agriculture can no longer be left out of the loop. Equipment manufacturers are adding more and more high-tech monitors and other components to the machinery farmers use. These systems are not cheap, and farmers need to have dependable connectivity. Many of these systems use GPS, which is connected to satellites, but the farmers also need dependable cell service to be able to connect with their home farms and others in their support system.

All of us need to keep the pressure on our state and federal legislators to see if a plan can be put in place. It won’t be cheap.

This is today’s challenge, much as it was back in the 1930s in getting electricity to farmers. To solve this issue, the Rural Electric Association Cooperatives were formed and, with federal assistance, farmers across the country were eventually connected to the power grid. Maybe this model can be used to provide broadband service to rural America and right here in Pennsylvania.

Farmers need to be connected; not far into the future, but right now.

Gregg writes from western Pennsylvania. She is the Pennsylvania 2019 Outstanding Woman in Agriculture and is a past president of American Agri-Women.

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