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Montana Ag Network: Rural broadband important to state agriculture industry

Posted: 6:39 AM, Jul 22, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-22 08:39:21-04

BILLINGS – In today’s agriculture industry, reliable and strong broadband internet is no longer a luxury but a necessity for farmers and ranchers and the quality of life for all rural Americans.

Michelle Erickson-Jones farms near Broadview and explains:

“It’s definitely more and more important as we start doing more and more work online, as more programs are online based, as is our combines, tractors and our diagnostics are online based,” said Jones. “It has become a crucial part of our industry to be able to access the markets, be able to access the auction online and just adds a lot of efficiency and can add a lot of profitability to our operations.”

Closing the digital divide and making sure that more Americans have access to high-speed internet service is a top priority of the FCC. During a recent trip to Montana, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr had the opportunity to see where progress is being made and the challenges that still exist.

“Yeah, we’re fortunate,” said Carr. “You know, we have five commissioners that work at the agency. Our chairman, Chairman Pai, grew up in Parsons, Kansas. I think we have a unique appreciation and perspective at the agency right now when it comes to rural America. And we’ve elevated bridging the digital divide, making sure that everyone has a fair shot at connectivity to our top priority. And we’re seeing some good progress. More broadband is being built out and at an accelerated clip than we’ve seen before. New cell sites are going up around the country. We’ve got to keep the hammer down until everybody sees that. But the numbers are headed in the right direction.”

It’s just not farmers and ranchers who depend on rural broadband. Carbon County Commissioner Scott Blain said entire rural communities rely on it for important essential services.

“It’s critical to everything we do anymore,” said Blain. “And it’s not just to get Netflix in every room in your house. We have clients in our mental health center seat seeking telemedicine with their addiction counselor in Hardin or Lewistown or Billings. And from a county perspective, you know, we rely heavily on everything on the cloud so people can work remotely. And it’s just a complete necessity to have in the county.”

The upside to broadband is significant. A new Farm Bureau study shows that widespread broadband service could boost the agricultural economy alone by an estimated $64.5 billion.

While most Americans take broadband for granted, approximately 25% of rural Americans lack access to broadband, which compares to the only 2% of urban Americans who lack such access.

By Russell Nemetz – Montana Ag Network