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Who will bring high-speed internet to the country?

drone
DATA LOGJAM: You can obtain data from crop fields using a drone much faster than you can upload that data for processing in most rural areas of Indiana.
Many see what the Indiana Legislature did as a good first step, but it’s not a solution.

Maybe you remember the slogan many REMCs once used: “Who brought lights to the country? REMC!” It had only been 25 to 30 years since electricity made it into more rural areas of Indiana, and rural member cooperatives wanted people to remember who made it possible. It was the rural co-ops, not the bigger power companies.

The situation is similar today, only the technology is different. Your city cousins likely have access to high-speed internet service, while you may not. Perhaps you can get internet, but if you live in a rural area, odds are your download and upload speeds aren’t comparable. Or maybe your service isn’t as reliable.

For example, I live 25 miles from downtown Indianapolis, yet my options for high-speed internet are limited. Line-of-sight internet beamed off grain legs and other towers worked OK for several years, but too many trees grew too tall on neighboring properties, causing less-reliable service. Satellite options are available, but many report less-than-stellar service.

Right now, I’m operating on a cellular signal from a major cellular company to create a hot spot in my office. Sometimes the signal is strong and the internet is fast; sometimes it is slower. And sometimes, usually at the wrong time, the signal is dropped and everything must be reset.

Justin Schneider, Indiana Farm Bureau, says that type of service won’t cut it as farmers move deeper into technology. As they collect and want to move more data on crops, they need access to fast, reliable internet service, just like any other business.

Top priority
“That’s why expanding rural broadband in rural areas was one of IFB’s top priorities in the recent legislative session,” Schneider says. “House Bill 1065 became law, establishing a grant program so that would-be providers can get help in doing what it takes to provide service in rural areas.

“It’s a great start, but it’s not a fix. There is a lot more work to do. Our members from rural areas were key in telling legislators that they need access to internet for their farm businesses, and they will need to continue to do so.

“Legislators seem to understand the message,” Schneider continues. “Some even have experienced less-than-satisfactory service for themselves. But this is an expensive proposition, and it’s going to take time and money to get the job done.”

Schneider says that under the new legislation, areas that don’t have 10-to-1 internet speed qualify under the grant program. That means downloading is 10 times faster than uploading. IFB believes a 25-to-3 ratio is more appropriate, but even that isn’t sufficient in many cases. One drone flight over a 40-acre field can generate so much data that it takes 70 minutes to upload it even with 25-to-3 speed, Schneider notes. As a comparison, fiber optics systems generally run at 50-to-50 speed, where download and upload speeds are equivalent.

“Part of the problem is that there isn’t nearly enough money available for grants at this point,” Schneider says. “But at least now that a mechanism for funding efforts to expand rural broadband is in place, we can look for federal help and in other places for dollars.”

The recent legislative action is a step in the right direction. But it will take a lot more work if you and your children who farm after you want to use technology to the fullest. 

Comments? Email tom.bechman@farmprogress.com.

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