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Precision Agriculture is About Harvesting Data as Well as Harvesting Fields, Say Experts at FCC Task Force Meeting

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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.

David Jelke was a Reporter for Broadband Breakfast. He graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in neuroscience. Growing up in Miami, he learned to speak Spanish during a study abroad semester in Peru. He is now teaching himself French on his iPhone.

Rural

Local Governments Provide Valuable Information for Rural Infrastructure Builds

Rural communities vary in broadband needs, making community engagement essential for breaching the digital divide.

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Photo of Scott Woods, Josh Seidemann, Jerry Kuthy and Bob Knight (left to right) by Teralyn Whippe

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2022 – A critical first step to delivering on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for rural communities at a local level is community engagement and understanding, panelists said at a Tuesday event of the Local Initiative Support Corporation.

As a local leader in a rural community “the first thing to do is a community survey,” said Josh Seidemann, vice president of policy at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

Seidemann and other panelists provided advice on what local communities need to do to be successful in applications under the IIJA. The process is expected to kick off upon release of rules from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The agency must release rules under the IIJA by May 16.

A community survey will help “determine and evaluate where your community needs broadband the most,” said Seidemann. Such a survey is “going to inform and illuminate the type of network that will best meet your needs.”

Community needs can vary due to topography and existing infrastructure available for use. “Make sure your network meets your community needs,” added Bob Knight, CEO of public relations agency Harrison Edwards and a local government official in Connecticut. He is co-chair of Fiber Broadband Association’s public officials group. “The best projects have an element of community engagement.”

Jerry Kuthy, Program Officer at Cameron Foundation, urged local leaders to create a mapping system of their individual geographical broadband needs.

The Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development launched an interactive broadband coverage map in April of 2022. Kuthy said the map will help local leaders in Virginia roll out funding for rural broadband infrastructure.

Mapping areas of focus for broadband projects has long been the focus for state and regional leaders, in part because so many people have expressed disappointment at previous FCC broadband mapping efforts.

LISC is an intermediary non-profit that connects public and private resources with underinvested places. The role of Community Development Financial Institutions was also discussed at the event.

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Rural

Community Development Financial Institutions Funds Prepare for Broadband Infrastructure Funding

CDFI funds are responsible for rural Wyoming broadband and may offer a solution to rural areas across the nation.

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Photo of Brian Vo

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2022 – A Treasury Department program that is bringing capital to disadvantaged communities is helping drive key money into broadband infrastructure builds in rural America, some of those recipient institutions said at an event Tuesday.

The department provides grants to and certifies institutions such as banks, credit unions, loan funds, microloan funds, or venture capital providers as Community Development Financial Institutions that provide financial services in low-income communities and to people who don’t have access to financing, according to the government website.

The program is also helping build much-needed broadband connectivity, as seen in rural Wyoming, where the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation has already utilized CDFI funds to finance a project to run fiber optics networks to rural Wyoming.

“We believe that there’s capital available for rural broadband,” Gary Franke, managing director of the communications group at CoBank, said at the Local Initiative Support Corporation event on Tuesday.

LISC is an intermediary non-profit that connects public and private resources with underinvested places. CoBank, however, is not a CDFI.

Such deals “typically will involve partnerships with state, local, or federal programs in addition to private equity,” he said.

Suzanne Anarde, CEO at Rural Community Assistance Corporation, a CDFI, said Tuesday that CDFIs must “find out what our individual niche is and how we can build capacity that makes us viable.”

Brian Vo, chief investment officer at Connect Humanity said that his organization could work with CDFIs in the future to fund their holistic approach to digital equity.

Photo of Brian Vo (right) by Teralyn Whipple

LISC alleges that the large national financial institutions are not interested in making investments to improve rural broadband expansion across the country. The organization states on its web site that “rural broadband is lacking in many areas because the large national providers are not interested in making the investment.”

“We see a lot of opportunity out there. With the right capital and the right funding programs, there’s a lot more to come,” Franke said.

There are currently more than 1,200 CDFI funds operating across the nation, many of which are now focusing on crossing the digital divide by providing funds for rural broadband infrastructure.

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Universal Service

Universal Service Fund in Need of Reform, Said Panelist at Broadband Community Summit Event

The Universal Service Fund’s base is shrinking.

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Photo of Carol Mattey speaking.

HOUSTON, May 3, 2022 – As funding for the Universal Service Fund continues to fall year over year, the Federal Communications Commission is evaluating options to reform it.

During Broadband Communities Summit 2022, Principal Consultant for Mattey Consulting LLC, Carol Mattey anticipated what kind of changes to the Universal Service Fund that stakeholders could expect in the coming years.

The Universal Service Fund is responsible for funding several high-profile financial benefits including the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, the Connect America Fund, E-Rate, the Lifeline Program, and the Rural Healthcare Program.

The USF is funded through compulsory service provider contributions. Though those contributions have historically been based on providers’ interstate and international telecommunications service revenues, critics of the program argue that providers are increasingly able to dodge these contributions by reclassifying their sources of revenue.

A common misconception for dwindling contributions is cord cutting, Mattey said. As more people drop landlines, there is simply less voice revenue – but that is only part of the issue.

Mattey said that while information revenues have increased through consumer use of the internet, voice revenues have fallen. This disparity has caused the telecommunication contribution to skyrocket and could be nearly 30 percent in 2022.

Mattey explained that most companies simply bill their consumers to offset that amount, and as a result, the contribution has been disproportionately burdened by the elderly who are more likely to use landlines.

When addressing potential reforms, Mattey pointed to three most likely possibilities being considered: broadband internet access revenue, a flat fee per voice and broadband connection, and a flat fee per phone number.

“Any reform needs to be simple and must be able to be audited,” she said. “The current system is not equitable.”

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