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O’Rielly Brings “Realist” Perspective to Precision Ag Meeting

Randy Sukow / Dec 9, 2019

The FCC’s Task Force for Reviewing Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture met for the first time this morning at the Commission’s headquarters. It was an opportunity for all the members to get acquainted, make opening statements, and declare any potential related interests or involvements. Amid a generally optimistic atmosphere, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s statement emphasized the need for realistic and cost-effective recommendations from the task force.

“I’m a realist here. I would love fiber go to everyone's home and farm and everywhere in between. But that's not in the cards,” O’Rielly said. “Financially in terms of how much money we'll invest as a nation, we’re talking hundreds of billions to make that to happen and that’s probably not where our universe is. We're going use other advancing technologies that are coming onboard, whether it be satellite or some of these new 5G wireless services.”

Chairman Ajit Pai alluded to the announcement last week that the FCC plans to create a $9 billion/10-year universal service 5G Fund. He noted that the plan calls for at least $1 billion of that fund to be dedicated to building out 5G-based precision agriculture technologies. He talked about advanced technologies he has seen during farm visits, such as 4G wireless-based soil-analyzing systems, and systems that allow ranchers to individually monitor every head of cattle.

“I think this need for America’s farms and ranches to have connectivity is only going to increase into the future,” Pai told the assembled task force members, many of which have farming experience, along with agribusiness, communications and other backgrounds. “You know better than I do that  a lot of these farms are going to be creating and will need to upload a huge amount of data, often to remote sites like the cloud, in order to analyze and make informed decisions about how to proceed.”

“When farmers struggle, the communities struggle. Connectivity is no longer a convenience of modern life. It’s an essential need,” said Teddy Bekele, senior VP and CTO of Land O’Lakes, who is chairing the task force. “I know that when we invest in rural America every American benefits.”

 

Task force Vice Chair Catherine Moyer, CEO of Pioneer Communications in Kansas, was unable to attend the Washington meeting due to a co-op board meeting. However, she was able to describe via a video message how successful rural co-ops use every tool available to them. “Pioneer provides broadband and we also provide voice and video and we do it over several different means,” she said. “We use fiber, hybrid fiber coax, copper, licensed wireless and unlicensed wireless. We’re organized as a cooperative. Our number-one priority is serving our members with broadband capabilities.”


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