Lessons learned from COVID-19

Precision agriculture, and rural broadband for that matter, will only become a reality when we in the communications industry realize we cannot individually solve this issue.
for a communications company that has a 10 Gb connection to the Internet at your office, you become spoiled to say the least. No more quick trips to the office to sync up or download files. If you do not have the luxury of experiencing 6 Mb DSL yourself, let me share that video calls are a challenge. I sometimes augment my home Internet usage with my hotspot on my wireless phone to provide some performance relief for key interactions with customers. This only works when no one else is trying to use the home Internet at the same time. We quickly adopted a “no Netflix during the day” rule as our COVID mantra.

Now, if this is my Internet experience living in rural-suburban Kansas City, what is the experience of people in more remote areas of Missouri? Kansas? Arkansas? Iowa? Nebraska?

Inadequate Internet in rural America

The reality of the situation today is that Internet access is vastly inadequate in rural America. It is a great challenge to serve every citizen with the level of service that is necessary to operate in today’s society. 

Many members of my family in Nebraska farm and ranch for a living and live in a typical rural environment.  Thanksgiving is always a big gathering, where they would let me know during my time at ALLTEL about where they needed wireless coverage or would offer a corner of their land for a new tower. Many of them utilize the cutting-edge technology that drives their tractor for them and tells them their yields when they are harvesting crops. When I talk to them about “precision agriculture,” many of them are skeptical. “You guys can create more stuff than we can pay for” is a typical response, which is true. 

In conversations I am having with major universities, one of the major obstacles is their budget. Who budgeted for “precision agriculture development?” In most cases, line items like this would likely be included under a technology and innovation budget, which is a rather large pot with many hands in it. Times are tough for universities right now, with most providing classes in a virtual environment and hearing from parents complaining about their kids not getting the education they are paying for.

Precision agriculture, and rural broadband for that matter, will only become a reality when we in the communications industry realize we cannot individually solve this issue. We must have partnerships between the various technology segments to efficiently bring products and services to market that farmers and ranchers can afford and will make them more efficient and productive. “Spend money to save money” is an infamous phrase that marketing people love to expound upon. It is the right mantra if it makes me more efficient and saves me money at the end of the day.

At Bluebird Network, we have embarked on a “fiber to the farm” initiative to spur broadband growth in rural America, starting with Missouri and Illinois. In the initial phase, we are taking a measured approach to develop a cohesive service offering: 

  1. Utilizing our existing partnerships and relationships with wireless providers and IoT companies promoting precision agriculture.
  2. Identifying medium-to-large farm and ranch operations within two miles of our existing fiber routes.
  3. Working with colleges and universities to connect their various research facilities (Mizzou has 12) via a hybrid solution including fiber, wireless network and IoT devices.

Prioritizing rural broadband

Back to COVID. As adverse as the impact of this virus has been on our society and world, we need to take a step back to identify our current technology shortcomings and improve our infrastructure now for the sake of future generations. Rural broadband must be a priority in 2021—not just for the sake of precision agriculture but also for the people who live in rural areas, and their kids that need to access school resources to virtually attend class and do their homework. There are countless efficiencies that can be realized, from smart water systems to control this precious resource, to drones that fly over fields and use sensors to apply the appropriate amount of fertilizer, and to security cameras that ensure that substantial resources and equipment are not stolen in these remote locations.   

In closing, I encourage each of you to please take COVID seriously. Wear a mask. Limit your close interactions with people, but love your family, especially parents and grandparents. Take care of yourselves and take care of each other. I’ve fully recovered and gained some perspective from my experience. Despite the current political environment, we are all Americans and will always share common ground. Let’s agree to make our world more enjoyable and more efficient for future generations. If we don’t do it now, we are missing a great opportunity to accelerate the promise of evolving science and technology to make our lives better. 


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