Agriculture needs better communication policy too

04/26/2014 9:00 AM

04/27/2014 5:45 PM

Agriculture is an iconic symbol of the American way of life of freedom, hard work and innovation — traits that will soon become mainstream when “Farmland” hits theaters on May 1.

Moving from hand labor to horses to self-propelled tractors, there have always been “technological” changes that have taken place. Unknown to most, many of the recent strides, including self-driving tractors, remote water systems and tablets that can control and record tracking information that driving crop-to-crop, field-to-field and year-to-year comparisons, have been spurred by the Internet and broadband technology.

But without smart policy from our national legislators on how the Internet is regulated and delivered to farmers, educators and health care professionals alike, the advancement of America’s growth sectors are at risk. More specifically, we need centrist deal brokers like Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat, to lead the charge in updating the overarching telecommunication law in the U.S. (the 1996 Telecommunications Act) to breakdown outdated distinctions between communication services and allow for dynamic and creative partnerships across industries.

Additionally, the Federal Communications Commission must do its part to intelligently free up more spectrum — the critical airwaves that carry data from Internet providers to wireless Internet users — so that Internet demand can be met. The connection between agriculture and telecommunications may seem odd, but given the growth of the tech sector in “Silicon Prairie,” it is anything but, and Midwesterners should take note.

On our farm in nearby Nebraska, we have incorporated new technologies throughout the years to enhance our business, just as the business community in Kansas City has long leveraged the Kauffman Foundation and is increasingly taking advantage of Google Fiber through efforts like the Startup Village. Just like city dwellers, our daily farm lives are no longer complete without our iPads and smartphones.

But these technologies only work with adequate Internet access, something we must work to improve. As we develop a bigger network of machine interfaces that need to talk to each other, there is an increased need for better, faster and more reliable telecommunications within rural America.

As we try to feed a growing world with an ever changing technological landscape that includes growing machine to machine and machine to cloud contact, the need to update these woefully outdated telecommunication laws and free up spectrum becomes abundantly clear.

As the FCC gets ready to set rules for a long-delayed “incentive auction” — a hot topic in Washington, D.C., involving the selling of spectrum airwaves by television broadcasters to wireless carriers — I believe the FCC must do everything in its power to ensure maximum participation. The auction should be open to all carriers that want to bid, and in turn, deliver increased spectrum to people who need it. Attempts by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to restrict access and give preferential treatment to particular carriers is misguided at best, and at worst, could be detrimental to rural Americans.

Along the same lines, as members of Congress embark on a multiyear effort to update the Communications Act of 1996 — written at a time when payphones were more popular than cellphones — elected officials should feel an urgency to update woefully outdated laws. As telecommunications expert Roslyn Layton said in a February op-ed, “we live in an age of convergence, where information, communication, and technology have merged.standardized definitions applied fairly are needed to make a level playing field for competition.”

With a modernized Communications Act, we can help ensure innovation and investment in the Internet ecosystem. Communications is at the heart of everything we do, including farming. Now is the time to help growing industries grow further.


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