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Ready to Speed?

Farm Industry News readers are more likely to access the Internet with a high-speed connection than are farmers and ranchers in agriculture at large.

But FIN readers with high-speed Internet are still in a minority of all FIN readers who have Internet connections.

A recent FIN reader survey, which studied Internet use trends, shows that 42% of readers with Internet service have high-speed connections, while 58% rely on dial-up connections.

That compares favorably to the national average for farmers and ranchers. A USDA survey released in 2005 shows that 31% of farmers with Internet connections have high-speed connections, while 69% use dial-up services.

To put the percentage of farmers with Internet access in perspective, of all farmers responding to the Farm Industry News survey, 32% have a dial-up connection, 23% have a high-speed connection and 45% don't connect to the Internet — in most cases because they don't have a computer.

Although the percentage of farmers with high-speed connections is relatively small, it appears to be growing rapidly. A survey of rural households conducted by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2003 shows that broadband use grew more than sixfold from 2000 to 2003, an average annual increase of 185%. It shows that broadband use in rural areas stood at 19% in 2003, having grown from 3% of households in 2000. The Farm Industry News survey suggests that, at least in the agricultural community, adoption of high-speed Internet connections is growing.

Sticking with dial-up

The survey asked dial-up users why they haven't switched to high-speed Internet connections. They cited four major reasons: cost, a belief that high-speed connections aren't available, concern about computer security and the lack of a need for high-speed access.

Among the survey respondents using dial-up, 58% said that high-speed connections, which typically cost $40 to $60/month, were too expensive.

The same percentage said that high-speed connections aren't available, which, in reality, isn't true. Satellite-based, high-speed Internet connections, for example, are available to any household with a clear line of sight of the southern sky, which is practically everywhere. Farmers also can take advantage of options such as telephone-line-based DSL (digital subscriber line), radio-based and cable connections.

Fifty-five percent of respondents said that concern about computer hackers and computer viruses is important in their decision to remain with a dial-up connection.

Value of speed

Survey respondents with dial-up connections appear to be skeptical about the value of high-speed Internet.

Fifty-one percent said lack of need for high-speed access is an important factor in their decision for not having a high-speed Internet connection. And when asked whether they think a high-speed connection would be a benefit to their farm, a resounding 94% said “no.”

Survey respondents with high-speed connections viewed the impact of the Internet more positively. Forty-three percent said they think high-speed Internet access has helped make their farm more productive, while 57% said it hasn't.

Top Internet uses

High-speed Internet users were asked about important uses of the Internet on their farms. They ranked their use of the Internet to gather information about seed, machinery, new technology, marketing options, the weather and other basic information at the top of the heap. In total, 87% of the growers said information gathering is an important benefit of a high-speed Internet connection.

Growers also ranked access to business, marketing and other consultants, as well as access to general news from around the globe, near the top of important high-speed Internet benefits.

Rankings of high-speed Internet benefits are shown in the chart on the next page.

Age, income and children

Surveys have shown that age, income and whether a family has school-age children at home influence a person's decision about whether to purchase a high-speed Internet connection.

Although the Farm Industry News survey did not delve into these demographic factors in detail, it confirms that age is an important factor in whether a farmer decides to get a high-speed Internet connection. The survey shows that 70% of farms with high-speed connections are headed by individuals who are 49 years of age or younger. Among those surveyed, 57% of operations whose primary manager is in that age group have a high-speed Internet connection. That compares to 11% of operations with high-speed connections headed by individuals who are 50 or older.

The USDA survey shows that income has a big effect on whether or not a farm has a broadband connection. Farmers with Internet connections who earn $250,000 or more (the highest income bracket in the survey) are the most likely to have a high-speed connection. About 40% of that group has a high-speed connection. At income levels below that amount, high-speed Internet connectivity gradually falls to 28% for those earning less than $10,000.

Another survey looking at high-speed Internet adoption in the rural U.S. shows that having school-age children at home more than doubles the likelihood of having a high-speed connection. The survey, which was conducted in Minnesota by the Center for Rural Policy and Development, shows that among respondents with school-aged children at home, 45.2% have a high-speed connection, compared to 21.5% for those without.

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