Bipartisan bill promotes precision agriculture, rural broadband

U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN, and Roger Wicker, R-MS, introduced legislation to promote precision agriculture and rural broadband deployment. The Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018 would direct the Federal Communications Commission to establish a task force to identify gaps in high-speed internet connectivity for the nation’s cropland and ranchland. The measure also instructs the agency to develop ways to help encourage broadband adoption and precision agriculture in areas where it is currently unavailable. The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Steve Daines, R-MT, and Jon Tester, D-MT.

“Farmers and ranchers are too often unable to take advantage of new technologies due to limited broadband infrastructure in rural areas—this is unacceptable in a 21st Century economy that demands efficiency,” Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation will help Minnesota farmers harness the power of broadband to improve business, reduce costs and improve crop yields.”

“Precision agriculture technologies are already changing the way American farmers do business,” Wicker said. “With increased efficiencies, higher yields, and more information, producers are better equipped to compete globally and provide American consumers with high-quality farm products. Rural broadband expansion is the key to unlocking this revolutionary technology.”

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 outlines these tasks for the new FCC task force:

Identify and measure current gaps in broadband coverage on cropland and ranchland;

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 cropland and ranchland, with the goal of achieving service on 95 percent of croplands and ranchlands in the United States by 2025;

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 croplands and ranchlands; and

Submit an annual report to Congress detailing the status of broadband coverage on croplands and ranchlands; the projected future connectivity needs of farmers and ranchers; and the steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of high-speed broadband on croplands and ranchlands.

As a member of both the Senate Commerce and Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committees, Klobuchar has been a leader in pushing to expand and improve communications infrastructure and promoting broadband access, particularly in rural areas. In 2015, Klobuchar introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Deb Fischer, R-NE, the Rural Spectrum Accessibility Act, to increase wireless broadband access in rural communities by providing incentives for wireless carriers to lease unused spectrum to rural or smaller carriers. A provision based on the legislation was included in the MOBILE NOW Act that passed the Senate in August. Bipartisan legislation Klobuchar introduced with Sens. Jon Tester, D-MT, and John Thune, R-SD, also passed the Senate Commerce Committee last year. The Improving Rural Call Quality and Reliability Act would establish basic quality standards to ensure rural residents have the ability to make and receive phone calls.

This legislation has been endorsed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, Agricultural Broadband Coalition, Competitive Carriers Association, and John Deere.