Farmers Call for Better Broadband in Rural California

By Kevin Hecteman at the California Farm Bureau Federation

Having trouble reading this on your laptop or smartphone? You might be among the more than one-quarter of rural Americans with insufficient broadband service.

From equipment diagnostics to data transfers to irrigation control to simple text messaging, tech is becoming a way of life on the farm—but is only as good as the local internet connection.

“America’s farmers and ranchers embrace technology that allows their farming businesses to be more efficient, economical and environmentally responsible,” the American Farm Bureau Federation states in a policy paper on the topic, citing precision applications of water, fertilizer and crop-protection materials among the benefits of tech on the farm.

“These are only a few examples of how farmers use broadband connectivity to achieve optimal yield, lower environmental impact and maximize profits,” AFBF stated.

Or, as Siskiyou County farmer Brandon Fawaz put it: “Having faster internet now is no longer a luxury. It’s kind of just required in the normal transaction or running of the business.”

The trick, of course, is getting that service out to people who need it. Even California—home of Silicon Valley and its technical cornucopia—has issues with connectivity in rural regions, and Fawaz said it goes beyond broadband.

“We’re still hindered by the lack of good cell coverage,” said Fawaz, who grows hay and operates a fertilizer and crop-protection business. “I still rely a lot more on printing paper and taking that to someone driving a fertilizer spreader versus being able to send them certain types of data files straight from wherever I’m at to wherever they’re at. You’ve got a piece of equipment sitting there, and you know what needs to be given to the guy, but you’re having to take him a piece of paper or a USB stick for him to plug into the computer on the machine.”

That extends to soil sensors Fawaz relies on to take moisture levels and send the data to phones and computers, accessing how-to videos and other troubleshooting information on equipment manufacturers’ websites and irrigating crops from remote locations.

“Our pivots—our irrigation systems—are controlled on service that’s basically just text-message-level service,” he said. “I’ve had to drive a 36-mile round trip to go down and push a button, because the pivot wouldn’t receive the stop or start command.”

The issue, one of AFBF’s top priorities, is receiving attention at the federal level. On Capitol Hill, a House subcommittee held a hearing last week at which Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst drove home the need for broadband access.

“While most Americans take broadband for granted, 26.4% of rural Americans lack access to broadband,” Hurst told the hearing. “This is alarming, particularly when compared to the only 1.7% of urban Americans who lack such access.”

Broadband connectivity allows equipment such as cloud-connected planters, irrigators, tractors and harvesters to automatically change application rates for seed, fertilizer and more, Hurst testified.

Connectivity also is key to running the most basic of services in rural areas, said Chester Robertson, chief administrative officer of Modoc County.

“It’s a public-safety issue,” Robertson said. “It’s an impediment to government and education. And it also impacts our private-sector businesses.”
Wildfires, car crashes into telephone poles and even squirrels gnawing on lines have all interrupted service and made it difficult, if not impossible, for residents and travelers to conduct business and for first responders to do their jobs, he added.

“The average citizen doesn’t realize the implications to them when we don’t have broadband,” Robertson said. “And it’s getting harder and harder for us in government to procure services when you’re not connected to the cloud.”

He’s seen the effects on farmers and ranchers in his county as well, and noted capacity is getting to be an issue.

“As more and more of the ag community and a lot of the kids and other people go to using their cellphone, they’re using the same broadband backbone that government and the rest of us are using,” Robertson said.

“There’s a nexus between cellphone usage, which more and more the ag community is dependent on, and having a strong backbone of broadband,” he added. “As time progresses, this becomes less of an equality issue and more of an issue of public safety, and compromises ability for businesses and public entities to provide core mandated services.”

A U.S. Department of Agriculture report, A Case for Rural Broadband, found that fully deployed rural broadband would lead to nearly $65 billion in economic benefits annually. The report, produced as part of the American Broadband Initiative, cites benefits to row crops, specialty crops and livestock management and states USDA’s intention to work with other federal agencies to remove barriers to broadband deployment and ag tech innovation (See Comment).

The 2018 Farm Bill included the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act, creating a task force to focus on connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture. The Broadband Data Improvement Act, introduced by Sen. Shelley Capito, R-W.V., seeks to improve the accuracy of broadband coverage maps and better direct federal funds for broadband installation where needed.

In the state Legislature, Assembly Bill 488 by Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, would add the secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture to the California Broadband Council, to give agriculture a voice in finding ways to expand broadband. The bill is up for consideration on the state Senate floor.

“At this day and age, how do we not have better cell coverage?” Fawaz asked. “If you were to ask people here what’s most frustrating on this topic, it hands down would be cell coverage.”

(Kevin Hecteman is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. He may be contacted at

Presented with Permission


5G Gets Boost in Controversial FCC Spectrum Vote

C/NET Has the details.

On Wednesday, the agency voted 3-2 to auction spectrum in the 2.5GHz band. This sliver of airwaves, known as the Educational Broadband Service, had been set aside for educational purposes during the 1960s. License holders had to be either educational institutions or nonprofits supporting education. These entities, which have gotten access to the spectrum for free, can lease the spectrum to wireless carriers. Sprint uses leased spectrum in the 2.5GHz band for its existing 4G network and these leases are a key reason why T-Mobile proposed spending $26 billion to buy the company, so it could use this so-called midband spectrum to build a 5G service.

The FCC voted to change the rules for the spectrum and is planning to auction unused or underused spectrum in the band directly to wireless carriers. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the vote “a major step toward freeing up critical midband spectrum for 5G.”

Continue reading HERE.

This spectrum will work better in rural applications, with more reach at reasonable speeds.

And House Takes Up 5G Airwaves

— A whopping eight witnesses, including representatives for the FCC, NTIA and other officials involved in the fight over prime 5G airwaves known as the C-band, are set to testify this morning before the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee. (Read all their written testimony here). A reminder: Satellite companies, which currently occupy the C-band, want the FCC to let them sell the spectrum privately, while Google, cable and wireless players, as well as some on Capitol Hill, are pushing for an FCC-run auction that they argue would provide more public interest benefits.

— We’re watching for what subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) says about his new spectrum draft bill now circulating among industry players. “The goal is to free up spectrum for the wireless industry, so we can deploy 5G,” Doyle told John, adding that lawmakers need to ensure “the money from that spectrum benefits American taxpayers and becomes a source of funding for broadband deployment in rural and underserved areas.”  [Emphasis Added]

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech


What is Software Defined Radio?

A question many people may ask when discussing 5G network technology.

With the exponential growth in the ways and means by which people need to communicate data communications, voice communications, video communications, broadcast messaging, command and control communications, emergency response communications, etc. – modifying radio devices easily and cost-effectively has become business critical. Software-defined radio

(SDR) technology brings the flexibility, cost efficiency and power to drive communications forward, with wide-reaching benefits realized by service providers and product developers through to end users.

[. . .]

Simply put Software Defined Radio is defined as
“Radio in which some or all of the physical layer functions are software defined”

A radio is any kind of device that wirelessly transmits or receives signals in the radio frequency

(RF) part of the electromagnetic spectrum to facilitate the transfer of information. In today’s world, radios exist in a multitude of items such as cell phones, computers, car door openers, vehicles, and televisions.

Traditional hardware-based radio devices limit cross-functionality and can only be modified through physical intervention. This results in higher production costs and minimal flexibility in supporting multiple waveform standards. By contrast, software-defined radio technology provides an efficient and comparatively inexpensive solution to this problem, allowing multimode, multi-band and/or multi-functional wireless devices that can be enhanced using software upgrades.

More HERE.

Most 5G cell site radios are SDR devices. These software devices provide the operator the ability to define multiple networks for performing different tasks, low latency network for real-time control, a plethora of connections for IoT devices, and wide bandwidth for big data applications. Virtual software-defined networks will also manage the data flow between devices. Antenna beams will also be formed by software. Think of a 5G mini-cell as specialized computers in a plastic pizza box connected to power and a network data source.

Here is one without the Pizza Box Cover and Antenna array:

Screen Shot 2019-07-15 at 8.42.53 PM


Visualizing 5G Antenna Sighting

In his Brooking paper 5G in five (not so) easy pieces, Tom Wheeler former FCC Chairman identified several hidden issues. One of those issues was antenna siting.

There is an inherent tension between the right of localities to make zoning decisions and the impact of those rights on a national infrastructure like 5G. There has always been a stress between wireless network infrastructure and not-in-my-back-yard (NIMBY) concerns.
[ . . .]
The issue of antenna siting has been further complicated as some states have sued to overturn the FCC’s order. While states like Texas and Florida have passed legislation embracing the concepts, 25 others, including California and New York, have rejected the idea. The impasse has prompted two U.S. senators, John Thune (R-S.D.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) to introduce federal legislation establishing standards for public review of antenna siting. It is an issue that must be resolved, but in order to be resolved must rise above winner-take-all outcomes.

The number of antenna or small cells will be determined by the frequency spectrum used. Where mmWave (24 GHz to 38 GHz) will require a small cell on every city block or at 24 GHz about ever 224 meters.

5G small cell

Mid-band, often referred to as Sub 6GHz spectrum is typical 3.1GHz to 4.2 GHz, needs to have a small cell about every 1000 meters.

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 4.47.57 PM
To help visualize what that means geographically, I developed a grid map with a radius of about 224 meters and about 1000 meters and overlaid them on the Grass Valley and Nevada City Spheres of Influence.

An antenna every 448 meters.


An antenna every 2000 meters.

Low-band (600-700 MHz) can use existing towers with coverage measured in miles. Sprint is using portions of its assigned 4G spectrum 2.5-2.7 GHz for 5G service using existing large towers.

Which would you refer in your neighborhood, high-band mmWave at awesome speeds [20-30 Gbps] or mid-band at reasonable speeds [100 Mbps]?

RCRC: Rural Broadband Update

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to introduce a regulatory order in August that would require more reporting data from broadband carriers to increase the accuracy of the national broadband coverage map.  Over the last several months, the FCC has faced scrutiny over the accuracy of the national broadband map, which is used by federal agencies to determine areas that lack reliable broadband coverage.

Democrats and Republicans have criticized the FCC for relying on data reported by nationwide carriers that appears to overstate the availability of internet access in some areas.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee on Commodity Exchanges, Energy, and Credit held a hearing this week on “Building Opportunity in Rural America through Affordable, Reliable and High-Speed Broadband.”  During his opening remarks, Subcommittee Chairman David Scott (D-Georgia) urged FCC Chairman Pai to allow stakeholders from rural America to play a role in the rulemaking process.  The FCC is scheduled to invest billions of dollars in rural broadband over the next several years and Chairman Scott suggested rural areas should be involved in the process.

The question is, how many years will pass before the Broadband Maps are brought up to date?  You cannot fix a problem with money unless you know where the problem is!