Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced Monday that he is creating a task force to advise the agency on the best ways to expand high-speed broadband internet service to farmers and ranchers.
Representatives of the electric cooperative industry are among those who are eligible to apply to serve on the 15-member task force, which was mandated by a provision in the sweeping Farm Bill passed by Congress last year. The task force also will include farmers, internet providers, members of the satellite industry, and makers of "precision agriculture" equipment such as drones and robotics.
Local and state government representatives and experts on mapping broadband coverage data can also apply to serve on the Task Force for Reviewing Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States. Applications are due by July 17.
Pai said he wants all farmers and ranchers to have access to broadband service so they can use it to better manage their crops and livestock.
"As I've traveled the country, I've seen the amazing efficiencies, innovations, and improvements that high-speed Internet brings to today's farms and ranches," Pai said in a statement. "I've met the operator of a Kansas feedlot using fiber and wireless connectivity to monitor every cow's unique in-take. I've met an Idaho farmer using everything from an LTE-based soil analysis app to drones to improve productivity and reduce costs on his potato farm."
"This is the present and the future of American agriculture, and we must do whatever we can to support these producers and enhance precision agriculture," Pai said.
The task force will work with the Department of Agriculture to identify and measure gaps in broadband service on agricultural land, develop policies to bring reliable service to 95% of that land by 2025, and recommend steps the FCC should take to get accurate measurements of broadband access. That data would be used to help federal agencies direct funding to unserved farms and ranches.
One year after the task force is created, members will present the FCC chairman with a public report that details the status of broadband access on agricultural land, the projected future connectivity needs of farmers and ranchers, and the steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of high-speed internet service.
Members of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last week pressed Pai to come up with better data about broadband access.
NRECA has been lobbying members of Congress to pass legislation that would create more reliable data so that federal funds can be targeted to the rural areas that need it most. Several bills have been introduced to address the issue of better broadband mapping.
"The unique focus of this task force, bringing broadband to farms and ranches that produce our food, is long overdue," said Brian O'Hara, NRECA's director of regulatory issues. "NRECA-member electric cooperatives are familiar with these challenges, having powered these same farms for decades. NRECA looks forward to working with the task force, the FCC and USDA to ensure every farm is connected."