farm combine

Several organizations, led by the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) and the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, are working on Broadband Breakthrough, a pilot program that aims to help bring federally funded high-speed connectivity to five rural Illinois counties.

The idea behind the program, which is funded by United Soybean Board, is to increase the percentage of farmers with broadband by preparing a wide variety of stakeholders to apply for grant money from the federal government. The financial benefits of broadband on farms will be at the heart of the applications.

If the pilot succeeds, the intention is to expand Broadband Breakthrough to the rest of the state, according to a video featuring Adrianne Furniss, the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

The idea is for the farmers, their ecosystems and county residents to have an effective voice in making the case for financial assistance.

“This is the first time we are integrating farmers, farm bureau and other agricultural businesses into the conversation, which I think is really important,” said Furniss in the video about Broadband Breakthrough.

She noted that good connectivity is important to gaining the full benefits of precision agriculture, and farmers should have input about how best to “bring services to the field so [they] can actually use the equipment they are paying [as much as] three quarters of a million dollars for that needs cellular service and if they don’t have it, [they won’t] be able to make decisions in real time….and that piece of equipment isn’t really doing what it is supposed to be doing.

“So bringing that constituency into this conversation I think is really ground breaking,” Furniss said.

The Broadband Breakthrough pilot will focus on illustrating how better connectivity will increase productivity and generate economic benefits.

Broadband Breakthrough will:

  • Create a broadband vision and goals statement outlining desired outcomes
  • Conduct a community broadband survey (with extensive guidance and assistance)
  • Interview current and prospective broadband providers
  • Review and analyze provider broadband maps
  • Host a Broadband Breakthrough Team visit in each community
  • Create a countywide broadband plan with as much as four hours of Benton Institute assistance
  • Create and deliver a presentation of the plan to the Broadband Breakthrough cohort in preparation for presentations to county boards and other local organizations

Other collaborators on the project are the Center for Rural Strategies, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband, the University of Illinois Extension, the University of Illinois Broadband Lab, the Illinois Innovation Network, Illinois State University, and the Wireless Research Center.

The five Illinois target counties are Schuyler, Edgar, Ogle, Hancock and McLean.

Last September, data released by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service found that Illinois was one of four states where the percentage of farms using precision agriculture exceeds 50%. The other states are North Dakota (57%), Nebraska (55%), South Dakota (53%) and Illinois (51%).

Two years earlier – in September, 2021 – Althea AgFiber partnered with Illinois-based Silo Communications to build more than 12 miles of fiber serving more than 100 farms and homes.

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