WASHINGTON, March 25, 2020— “We won’t be calling it precision farming anymore, we’ll just be calling it farming,” announced Ken Sudduth, an agricultural engineer at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
Sudduth spoke Wednesday at a monthly electronic meeting of the Federal Communication Commission’s Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force.
Sudduth made the argument during his presentation to listeners that precision agriculture is at an inflection point, representing technology that is changing hands from early adopters to mainstream farmers.
Precision agriculture refers to the ability to use broadband, large data sets, and drones to optimize agricultural production in areas like row-crop farming, broad-acre farming, dairy production, and even botanical disease identification.
Precision agriculture, Sudduth explained will allow farmers to increase their profits while also minimizing impact to the environment. We’re “not just harvesting fields but we’re harvesting data,” Sudduth said.
The improvements wrought by precision agriculture will improve the value chain “from farm to fork.” Sudduth used this phrase to describe the possibility of farmers using this technology to produce precision foods— matching the nutrients of specific plants with the genotype of an individual for optimal health.
Craig Ganssle, founder and CEO of Farmwave and another participant on the webinar, described his company’s strides in scaling precision agriculture. He described Farmwave as the first artificial intelligence library on plant pathology, adding that USDA and 16 U.S. universities use the AI library.
Amazingly, Farmwave’s visual recognition software called Vision Computing can use footage of a farmer’s infected crop and return an accurate result: corn leaf blight. This same technology will be able to accurately estimate the number of kernels on an ear of corn and the number of ears of corn on a plot of land. This grants farmers razor sharp precision in understanding their yield and allows them to optimize growth for future harvests.
Sudduth and Ganssle spoke at a conference call for the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force, but not all participants agreed with that label. “Calling it precision agriculture was a little narrow,” Teddy Bekele, chief of the task force admitted, of the name.
A colleague of Bekele’s chimed in that “it’s the entire agriculture community” that this task force represents, and therefore it should choose a name that’s more reflective of that inclusion.
Other participants had problems with the name’s length. “Our task force name is a little unwieldy,” another member said of the group, whose full name is “Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States.”
He also mentioned how he has trouble remembering all the words in the task force name. He suggested using “an acronym” or something that’s “more to the point” and argued that this would improve communications.
“Marketing is important,” another colleague said.
FCC Announces $163 Million in Second Round of Approved RDOF Funding
The agency is reevaluating winning bids after asking providers to ensure census blocks aren’t already served.
WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday another approved round of funding from the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.
The $163 million in approved money will go to 42 providers who will drive fiber to the home for gigabit services covering 65,000 locations in 21 states over the next ten years, the FCC said Thursday.
“More help is on the way to households without broadband,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release Thursday. “This is an important program for getting more Americans connected to high-speed internet, and we are continuing careful oversight of this process to ensure that providers meet their obligations to deploy in areas that need it.”
The FCC in July asked that providers conduct an assessment in areas for which they won money from the fund in December, because complaints emerged that the approved areas were already served with adequate connectivity.
The commission said 85 bidders chose not to pursue their bids in 5,089 census blocks because those areas were either served or could be wasted. Some attributed their enlightenment to updated FCC maps based on Form 477 data, an often criticized form of data collection that is reliant on service provider data.
The last round of approved money was last month, when the FCC approved a further 13 bidders.
Varying Technologies Needed to Make Widespread Public Library Wi-Fi a Reality
From direct fiber connections to low-earth orbit satellites, libraries can provide public Wi-Fi through varying means.
WASHINGTON, October 4, 2021 – The director of the Libraries Whitespace Project said libraries across the country will need varying ways to get connected and provide access to public Wi-Fi.
That means that while the “cheapest, most equitable, most economical way to connect every community with next generation broadband is to run fiber to all of the 17,000 libraries,” Don Means said Friday, other solutions will need to be considered where geography doesn’t allow for a direct fiber connection.
“Every community is a unique combination of density, topology, socioeconomics, existing infrastructure and also available spectrum and then whatever the local policy preferences are,” said Means, who was hosted by the Gigabit Libraries Network hosted as part of Libraries in Response series on Friday.
There is no one size fits all solution to connectivity, Means said. But vendors, he said, are often concerned with selling a single solution for the simple reason that it’s more efficient and profitable to do so.
A technology still in its infancy is low-earth orbit satellites for broadband, which hover closer to earth than traditional satellites and thus theoretically provide better connectivity than those flying higher above the earth’s surface. The first library in the world connected through LEO satellites is a tribal library located in northern New Mexico, Means said, noting that such technologies could help fill the connectivity gap.
SpaceX’s Starlink is racing to make its broadband constellation of LEOs a staple of rural and urban connectivity, as it has been beta testing its technology for months now.
Means added that some free Wi-Fi hotspots have served to cover entire communities.
“We talk about rural in terms of density, and we use the numbers of countywide density, people per square mile across the county, which is really low,” he said.
“But when you look at where people really live, most rural people live close together in small communities. It might be a mile or two across… which means that these few hotspots across town could cover the whole town.”
He used the example of the town of Plymouth, Nebraska, which set up a handful of these Wi-Fi access stations for $17,000 and gave the entire rural community access to the internet.
The GLN began the series in response to the pandemic, which made clear that broadband, connectivity, and the internet are fundamental to the nation’s wellbeing.
Christopher Ali’s New Book Dissects Failures of Rural Broadband Policy and Leadership
“Farm Fresh Broadband” explains the world of broadband policy and provides solutions to bridge the digital divide.
WASHINGTON, September 24, 2021—In his most recent book, University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali argues that the ongoing battle for improved connectivity is not only far from over, but also critically flawed.
“Farm Fresh Broadband” proposes a new approach to national rural broadband policy to narrow the rural-urban digital divide. In Ali’s view, the lack of coordinated, federal leadership and a failure to recognize the roles that local communities and municipalities need to play in the deployment of broadband has contributed to a lack of competition between carriers, and ultimately, higher costs to consumers.
Just two days after it was released, Ali sat down for a video interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark to discuss his story – and Ali’s recommendations that resulted from his journey.
Ali raises the question about How the $6 billion in federal funds allocated to broadband is spent annually? Based on his findings, he makes policy recommendations to democratize rural broadband policy architecture and re-model it after the historic efforts to bring telephony services and electricity to Americans across the country.
In particular, Ali discusses how, in one chapter of his book, he raises the provocative question about whether “Good Is the Enemy of Great: The Four Failures of Rural Broadband Policy.” In his telling, less money, lower speed, and poor-quality broadband mapping have all contributed to an approach that, in seeking “good enough,” federal policy has failed Rural America.
Ali, an associate professor at UVA’s Department of Media Studies and a Knight News Innovation Fellow with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, is also the chair of the Communication Law and Policy Division of the International Communications Association and the author of two books on localism in media, “Media Localism: The Policies of Place” (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and “Local News in a Digital World” (Tow Center for Digital Journalism, 2017)
“Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity” available at the MIT Press.
See Professor Ali’s recent Expert Opinion for Broadband Breakfast, “Christopher Ali: Is Broadband Like Getting Bran Flakes to the Home?“
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