With high-tech farming machinery that relies on wireless connections, alongside the ever-growing online opportunities for farmers—such as interacting with potential partners and buyers and the ability to sell products to a wider array of consumers—connectivity is becoming more and more important for modern-day farming.
But not all farms have access to the perks of the online world. According to the USDA, around 22 percent of Americans in rural areas and 27 percent in Tribal lands lack access to the broadband connection on which urban residents rely.
And farmers’ need for the internet is on the rise. Data from the USDA’s 2021 Farm Computer Usage and Ownership report shows that 29 percent of farms used the internet to purchase agricultural inputs in 2021, an increase of five percent from 2019. The report found that only 50 percent of internet-connected farms had access to the internet via broadband, and 70 percent of the connected farms relied mainly on cellular data for the connection.
In an effort to connect more rural residents to the internet, the Biden administration announced this week a $401-million plan to expand broadband access in the US.
The plan will provide high-speed internet access to more than 30,000 residents across 11 states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas.
Rural areas often do not have the infrastructure that would grant access to broadband networks, and the financial burden of setting it up is not necessarily lucrative for internet service providers—resulting in the rural regions’ connectivity complications.
The money for the new plan, which will be accessible through the USDA ReConnect loan and grant program, will go towards the construction and improvement of internet infrastructure across the states, increasing rural access to broadband networks.
When addressing the press, Biden’s infrastructure co-ordinator, Mitch Landrieu, said: “Rural communities are the backbone of our nation and have a broad impact on our economy, but for too long, rural communities have been left out or left behind and under-recognized for their contributions. We’re changing that, and it starts with making sure that rural communities are connected to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.”
The issues surrounding rural internet connectivity have been supported by USDA funding for years. The ReConnect program was started in 2018, and it provides funding through federal grants and loans to increase internet infrastructure installation across rural America. The program has invested nearly $1 billion into broadband connectivity to date.
More details of Biden’s new plan are anticipated throughout the next few weeks.