Last week, I had the privilege of attending a roundtable discussion with Senator Roger Wicker to discuss expanding rural broadband service and specifically Connect Americans Now’s (CAN) plan to eliminate the digital divide.
As a farmer in the South Delta, I am all too familiar with the challenge of being far from a population center that naturally attracts investment in technology such as broadband access. Sitting alongside rural advocates and Mississippi business leaders, I heard first-hand stories of challenges our State faces due to lack of high speed internet and the immense opportunities that would stem from better broadband access.
I was greatly encouraged, but not surprised, about how committed Senator Wicker is to connecting more Mississippians to high-speed internet and his understanding of how essential it is to our state’s economic future.
There are significant negative implications of the digital divide on agriculture, health care, small business and education, and unfortunately, too many Mississippians still find themselves on the wrong side of that digital divide.
As part of a farming family in today’s world, we are constantly learning about new advancements in the agriculture industry and strive to stay up-to-date with emerging technology just like any other industry. As agricultural jobs have become increasingly sophisticated, farmers rely more and more on broadband access to help us succeed in a challenging farm economy. Broadband access promises to enhance agricultural productivity by allowing farmers to work more efficiently. It will help farmers compete by allowing them to use the latest technology, find new customers and more affordable supplies. In some operations, with the help of broadband, farmers are able to schedule irrigation, thus increasing water usage efficiency.
The rural Broadband gap exists because it is expensive to connect users in rural areas; however, one of the best emerging answers to bringing broadband coverage to rural Americans is adopting a mixed technology model.
Thankfully, CAN is promoting a workable solution. The Coalition, partnering with Microsoft and other telecommunications companies, intends to use “TV White Spaces” to reach 80% of rural Americans without broadband access. This “TV White Spaces” uses unused channels below 700 MHz to reach otherwise unreachable areas in rural communities. In places like the South Delta, there is a surplus of these channels that could easily be utilized to help position us for stronger economic growth.
The success of this coalition is dependent on leadership in Washington. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) needs to ensure the continued use of at least three channels below 700MHz on an unlicensed basis in every market in the country. These channels must be open to the public, so companies can utilize them to provide broadband coverage to millions across Mississippi and the country.
If you want more Broadband coverage in your community, please visit connectamericansnow.com to join the CAN coalition today and ask your Congressional members to urge the FCC to take the action to allow the private sector to make this technology available to those of us in rural Mississippi and rural America.
Darrington Seward is a farmer from Louise and a member of the Delta Council.