In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission will provide $20 billion to expand broadband, and the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) wants to make sure those dollars are put to good use. “Broadband is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity to modern life and business,” said R.J. Karney, AFBF’s director of congressional relations.
That is why the AFBF invited me to deliver a featured presentation on current issues in broadband expansion, and the broader topic of the digital divide, at its 101st annual convention, Jan. 17-22 in Austin, Texas. I based my January 19 presentation on Disconnected: Seven lessons on fixing the digital divide, the Kansas City Fed’s 2019 report on broadband, the digital divide, and current mapping and policy issues.
At the beginning, I asked the audience to raise a hand if broadband was unavailable at their home. Almost everyone raised a hand. After I finished my presentation, I invited the audience to ask questions and share their experiences. Of the 80 who attended, about a dozen asked questions on topics such as how to encourage electric co-ops to deploy broadband and how to ensure federal funds are spent effectively. An attendee from the North Carolina Farm Bureau (NCFB) shared an initiative to create its own broadband availability map by surveying its membership. With more than 500,000 members, the NCFB is uniquely positioned to create an accurate map of broadband availability across the state.
Broadband is a must for today’s farmers, Karney told me. “Rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture, the farmers and ranchers who grow our food, and the quality of life for rural Americans. America’s farmers and ranchers need connectivity for their precision agricultural equipment that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical and environmentally sensitive.”
AFBF supports bipartisan Broadband Data Improvement Act
The AFBF is an independent, nongovernmental, volunteer organization governed by and representing farm and ranch families. The AFBF works to study issues and take action for educational improvement, economic opportunity and social advancement. State Farm Bureaus work at local, county, state, national and international levels and are nonpartisan.
According to the AFBF, 29% of farmers and ranchers currently lack broadband. Recognizing society’s increasing dependence on broadband, the AFBF has adopted broadband as a key legislative policy issue. It is encouraging the nearly 6 million Farm Bureau members nationally to contact their legislators requesting their support of the External Linkbipartisan Broadband Data Improvement Act. The act seeks to:
- Improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband buildout.
- Correct the current method of gathering data by requiring broadband providers to report data to create an improved National Broadband Map that is significantly more accurate, granular and transparent.