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Montana ag group pushing for better rural broadband internet

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Posted at 8:06 AM, Aug 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-26 10:06:42-04

In Montana, one in three residents does not have access to reliable broadband internet- three times the national average.

Even as internet access has increased statewide in recent years, there is still more work to be done to connect the countryside with reliable internet. Rural broadband is essential to modern agriculture, the farmers and ranchers who grow food and the quality of life for all rural Americans.

Rachel Cone, director of state governmental affairs for the Montana Farm Bureau Federation, said it’s an issue the organization has worked to address on the state and national level.

“It's no secret that modernization is desperately needed for rural America,” said Cone. “Expanding people's access to broadband is incredibly important. We've known it for a long time, and it's been a priority for Montana Farm Bureau and the American Farm Bureau.”

USDA reports that 88 percent of Montana farms and ranches had internet access in 2021, an increase of 5 percentage points from 2019.

The data also showed that 63 percent of producers accessed the internet via a cellular network, followed closing by broadband at 61 percent.

But, for Montana farmers and ranchers to use the latest technologies and innovations to be more sustainable, more reliable bandwidth is needed.

“Agriculture practices are improving,” said Cone. “To have more data-driven decisions, to be able to connect to different cloud-based equipment platforms and know how to use your resources well takes broadband. As we improve agricultural practices, we can do more, we can produce more, we can utilize less resources and we can be cautious about how we're farming and ranching.”

On the state level, Montana Farm Bureau applauded the bipartisan-supported ConnectMT Act. Signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, the act uses $275 million of the American Rescue Plan to fund statewide broadband projects.

“The state will utilize this bill and have these different broadband infrastructure accounts,” said Cone. “We now have the ability to create more broadband across the country. That it's not all based on who can afford it or who can afford to connect the broadband into their homes. There will just be more access to it.”

On the national level, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) appreciates the U.S. Senate's bipartisan work on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which not only includes broadband priorities but important updates to rural infrastructure vital to American Agriculture.

“AFBF appreciates the Senate for working together in a bipartisan manner to pass the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “The pressing infrastructure issues facing our nation are too important to ignore, particularly in rural communities where modernization is desperately needed.”

“Extending digital access to rural America is just as important as paved roads and solid bridges. Increased funding to bring broadband to hundreds of thousands of farms that currently have no access to the internet will help farmers meet the demands of a growing world while using emerging technologies to build on climate-smart practices,” Duvall added.