Just like in any other business, access to dependable broadband service has become as integral to a farm’s success as its reliable access to electricity.

Unfortunately, according to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 8th Broadband Progress report, of the approximately 20 million Americans lacking access to fixed broadband service, roughly 14.5 million are located in the more rural regions of the U.S.

The FCC defines high speed internet service as service which meets a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps (megabits per second).

According to the National Grange, barriers such as rights-of-way, poll attachment fees, slow permitting and other barriers are slowing rural broadband deployment projects. The National Grange wrote to Federal Communications Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in January to urge the FCC to issue its guidance, a long time in the making, to address these barriers.

“Until these barriers are mitigated, rural broadband is at risk of falling behind for the funding provided in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” the Grange noted.

Continuing the push for high-speed internet

Sarah Cornelisse

“Having a social media presence and being engaged with followers is especially important for farms that are direct marketing because consumers want local food and to support local businesses,” explained Penn State Extension’s Sarah Cornelisse. “Social media is today’s version of word of mouth.”

While states such as New York and Massachusetts are rated amongst the very best in the nation in terms of internet coverage and speed, other states like Maine and West Virginia occupy the bottom of the list. Consequently, producers in the Pine Tree State and Mountain State are looking at a number of ways to address that inequity.

The age-old question of how to bring your produce to the world may just have a 21st century answer.

One option is Starlink, an initiative by spacecraft and communications satellite manufacturer SpaceX, which utilizes a network of over 3,300 low-Earth-orbit satellites to provide high-speed internet access to remote locations across the globe.

For many U.S. farmers who have been waiting for years for the installation of fiber optic cables to their communities, Starlink could prove a viable alternative. The installation of fiber optic is expensive, logistically challenging and largely dependent on the speed of the federal government.

The critical thing to do right now is to reach out to government officials – specifically those helping to craft the upcoming Farm Bill – to demand that better broadband access continue to be a priority for those in rural areas. Equal access means a more equitable marketplace for all.

If you or those near you do not currently have high-speed internet, contact your state broadband agency to be sure you are listed correctly. In their information gathering, the National Grange found that in Vermont, “the FCC says about 59,000 people are unserved or underserved. But the Vermont Community Broadband Board says it’s well over 100,000 addresses that are unserved or underserved.” Similar feedback is coming from Georgia, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, West Virginia and others.

by Enrico Villamaino