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Broadband's Impact

Smart Agriculture Needs Better Broadband in Rural Areas, Say NTIA Panelists

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WASHINGTON, June 26, 2018 – The lack of broadband coverage in rural areas is impeding the agriculture sector from making greater use of “precision farming,” according to experts speaking at a Commerce Department webinar on Wednesday.

Speaking at a National Telecommunications and Information Administration webinar on “Smart Agriculture: Increasing Productivity Through Technology” hosted by BroadbandUSA,  experts from John Deere and Purdue University blamed the lack of broadband coverage on curtailing the potential of such technologies.

When trying to get the cellular service to work with the machines in rural locations, “Coverage is a problem,” said Mark Lewellen, manager of spectrum advocacy for John Deere.

“Precision planting–and spraying and harvesting – relies on high precision GPS,” Lewellen said. The high precision GPS system can provide a yield map of the field, he said, which can identify areas with the best yield and provide a color-coded map to communicate with other farming devices.

“It knows to max out placement in areas of green. It pulls back on that placement in areas of yellow, and even more so in areas of red,” he said. When connectivity is available, farmers can save up to 10 percent in costs. The systems can’t work when the farmers can’t remotely access their data.

Real-time data usage relies on high-speed internet connections

Aaron Ault, senior research engineering at Purdue University, spoke about the need for automated data to flow without manual intervention by a farmer.

“There isn’t anyone that doesn’t want” automation, said Ault, who works at a unit of the university dubbed the Open Ag Tech & Systems group. “That’s the key to what data needs to do to provide real value to people.”

But this isn’t possible without good-quality broadband, he said. “It has to be automated in real-time. You can’t get real-time data if you don’t have decent broadband connection.”

How smart agriculture works (when there is better broadband)

In general, “smart Agriculture” refers to the development and deployment of technology to improve farming techniques, resulting in techniques such as precision agriculture (including site-specific management), which uses sensing, data collection, modeling and other technology to map subfields within a farming field.

Knowing the specific conditions of areas within a field allows farmers to manage resources more efficiently, resulting in less waste of fertilizer, water, seeds, and other costly expenses.

According to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, despite that the agricultural community largely acknowledges that smart agriculture technology is the future of farming, actual adoption of smart agriculture has been slow.

NIFA cites initial cost and wariness toward technology, particularly for small-sized producers who lack the competitive and economic advantage larger producers benefit from.

Lack of broadband in certain rural areas may cause difficulties when farmers try to implement the new technologies that rely on GPS systems or remote data access.

Machines use remote data access if, for example the machine makes a “data-only call back to a cell tower, back to the internet, to a series of servers,” said Lewellen. Once on the server, Lewellen explained, the machines can log in and retrieve information, such as when or which machines are running idle.

“If the machines sit in idle, they aren’t doing anything, that’s wasting fuels, polluting the atmosphere, as much as 20-30 percent of the time – that wastes a lot of money,” Lewellen said.

But with broadband feedback, that waste doesn’t exit. You “get rid of it all together,” he said.

Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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