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Montana Ag Network: Rural broadband internet important to Montana’s ag industry

Posted at 12:36 PM, Jul 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-22 14:36:29-04

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 most rural Americans.

Michelle Erickson-Jones, who farms near Broadview, explained the importance of internet access for the agriculture industry.

“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 more Americans have access to high-speed internet service is a top priority of the Federal Communications Commission. 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.

He said the FCC is fortunate to have five commissioners who have a unique appreciation and perspective in regards 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,” said Carr. “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 do to 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 widespread broadband service could boost the agricultural economy alone by an estimated $64.5 billion.

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

-Reported by Russell Nemetz/MTN News