Progress report on broadband policy for rural America

We have an update on efforts to get broadband to rural America.

As lawmakers look to continue updating broadband policy, to increase access, witnesses from the industry share their experiences with the programs and ideas on how to improve.

Justin Forde, the Senior Director of Government Relations at Midco, told lawmakers that it is important to keep policy “technology-neutral” to allow local companies flexibility.

According to Forde, “A lot of farmers do not want a fiber line to the farm, they want connectivity to the entire farm. In fact, we have a farmer that has two farms, 75 miles apart. He can use fixed wireless and get connections to both of those for less than $100 dollars. The cost of running fiber to those wouldn’t be economical for us or for the federal government to serve both of those farms.”

Using a recent example from Minnesota, he explained how better agency coordination is needed to ensure federal dollars are spent wisely and where they are needed most.

“We’ve been awarded CAF 2 funding to reach areas of Dakota County in Minnesota and are fully on track for our deployment schedule, but recently we learned two other providers have been awarded CARES Act funding to serve the same areas,” Forde states. “That’s three providers awarded federal funds to serve the exact same area.”

Lawmakers also spent a significant amount of time on the question of what level of connectivity is needed.

Dr. Christopher Ali from the University of Virginia says that precision ag needs access to symmetrical 100x100 speeds.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in rural Minnesota talking to precision agriculture companies and providers; they are uploading terabytes of data and doing an incredible amount of soil analysis oftentimes in realtime, if possible if the technology is there... They need that ultra-fast symmetric upload speeds to enable them to make real-time decisions about planting,” Dr. Ali explains.

However, Forde pushed back saying that increasing the standard from 25/3 MBS to 100/100 would only reclassify some areas as unserved.

“The farms, hundreds of them in the vast agriculture area could also get over 100/20 service out in those farms surely from Midco,” Forde adds. “All of those areas, if the speed changes, would now become eligible for federal funding.”

Witnesses also called on the committee to consider increasing penalties for providers who receive federal funds but fail to deliver service to rural America.