At the same time that the government is making unprecedented funding available for broadband, it also is considering setting more ambitious broadband goals. A new set of ambitious goals came this week from the FCC Precision Agriculture Task Force which, among other things, is recommending that buildout requirements such as those made in connection with spectrum auctions should be based on geographic covered areas that comprise croplands or ranch lands rather than populations.
Also among the task force recommendations: increasing incentives and subsidies to drive deployment; increasing the minimum fixed and mobile broadband speed definitions to 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload; expanding middle mile infrastructure; and clarifying that edge compute infrastructure and private 5G wireless systems are eligible expenses for federal broadband programs.
FCC Precision Ag Task Force
The FCC Precision Agriculture Task Force was established in 2019 to work with the USDA to study connectivity needs to support the technology and to make recommendations about how to meet those needs. The newly issued 129-page task force report summarizes the task force’s research and recommendations.
“[T]he number of people living across the United States who need to be fed is growing exponentially, and food production has to match this need to ensure U.S. food security,” the report notes. “In addition, the need for agricultural products to support other requirements, such as fuel, continues to grow. . . The agriculture community must become more productive and efficient to meet increased demand in the United States for food and other resources.”
According to the researchers, the agriculture community requires both broadband and narrowband connectivity, including low-speed broad coverage and high-speed, high-throughput, targeted coverage. This requirement drove the report recommendation that the FCC should “identify, implement and/or strengthen policies to facilitate the use of low, mid and high-band spectrum for precision agriculture applications.”
The task force’s specific recommendations regarding connectivity to support precision agriculture:
- The farmhouse, fields and pastureland must have 4G/5G coverage. Service providers must be interconnected with the private 5G wireless systems at farms and ranches for seamless interoperability and data flow.
- Edge cloud infrastructure must be created to bring the cloud to farms and ranches to fulfill the promise of automation. The edge infrastructure must be located at farms and ranches and be connected to broadband.
- Private 5G wireless systems must be implemented at every farm and ranch to collect massive amounts of data from sensors, machines and drones. These systems will provide service to the farmhouse, utility yards, barns, stock yards and outbuildings.
- Edge computing, private 5G systems and precision agriculture apps must be included as essential infrastructure in all rural broadband incentive programs from the FCC, USDA and other federal agencies as well as in state and county programs.
“By itself, broadband is a bridge halfway,” the report states. “A complete infrastructure and software solution is required for the adoption and realization of precision agriculture.”