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December 07, 2018

Senate Passes Bipartisan King-Backed Bill to Promote High-Speed Internet for Farmers

Bill aims to grow precision agriculture and availability of rural broadband by promoting high-speed internet deployment to nation’s agricultural land

BANGOR, ME – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) applauded last night’s Senate passage of the “Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018,” a bipartisan bill cosponsored by Senator King that promotes precision agriculture and rural broadband deployment. The legislation, which Senator King cosponsored in May, would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a task force to identify gaps in high-speed internet connectivity for the nation’s agricultural land. The measure also instructs the agency to develop ways to help encourage broadband adoption and precision agriculture and to promote broadband deployment in areas where it is currently unavailable.

“In rural regions across Maine, our state’s farmers are pillars of their communities and the foundation of the local economy,” said Senator King. “And, by the way – their products are second-to-none. We need to find ways to help them expand their efforts and reach new markets, and we should start by making sure they have all the technology they need to maximize their yield and reduce their costs. Through precision agriculture and rural broadband, we can help Maine farms increase efficiency and become more competitive in the global marketplace.”

“Broadband connectivity can support our rural farmers and their farm businesses in many ways, including utilization of tools and technologies to enhance their practices, and improving access to markets and other timely information that is difficult to obtain without reliable and consistent broadband service,” said Amanda Beal, President and CEO of Maine Farmland Trust, at the time of Senator King’s cosponsorship in May.

Precision agriculture describes the use of mobile devices, robotics, field sensors, remote monitoring, and other technologies to manage agricultural production. Farmers and ranchers who use the technology can significantly increase crop yields, streamline operations, and reduce production expenses. In many areas of the United States, reliable, high-speed internet connections are not consistently available to support precision agriculture operations.

Specifically, the legislation asks the newly-created FCC task force to:

·         Identify and measure current gaps in the availability of broadband coverage on agricultural land;

·         Assemble a comprehensive guide of all federal programs or resources dedicated to expanding broadband access on cropland and ranchland;

·         Develop policy recommendations, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of fixed and mobile high-speed broadband on agricultural land, with the goal of achieving service on 95 percent of agricultural land in the United States by 2025;

·         Recommend specific steps that the FCC and other Federal agencies should take to obtain reliable and standardized data measurements of broadband coverage as may be necessary to target funding support to unserved agricultural land;

·         Recommend specific steps the FCC can take to ensure that available farm data from the USDA is reflected in developing Federal programs to deploy broadband to agricultural land; and

·         Submit an annual report to Congress detailing the status of fixed and mobile broadband coverage on agricultural land; the projected future connectivity needs of agricultural operations, farmers, and ranchers; and the steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of high-speed broadband on agricultural land and the limitations of current measurement processes.

In addition to Senator King, the bill is cosponsored by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Tina Smith, (D-Minn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.).

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