The legislation will target broadband deployment to the nation’s farms and ranches

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Roger Wicker (R-MS) announced the passage of their legislation, the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018, by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a task force to identify gaps in broadband connectivity for the nation’s cropland and ranchland. The measure also instructs the agency to develop ways to help encourage broadband adoption and precision agriculture in areas where it is currently unavailable.

“We still have work to do to close the digital divide between rural and urban communities. In a 21st Century economy that demands efficiency, farmers and ranchers are too often unable to take advantage of new technologies due to limited broadband access,” Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation will promote broadband deployment and precision agriculture technology to help Minnesota farmers streamline their operations, improve crop yields, and boost their bottom line.”

“Technology is helping American businesses be more efficient, intelligent, and cost-effective,” Wicker said. “Unfortunately, too many farmers and ranchers are unable to take advantage of advances in precision agriculture because rural areas lack adequate access to high-speed internet networks. Today, the Commerce Committee has taken a positive step toward solving this problem so that our nation’s farms and ranches can utilize these new technologies and provide quality products at the best prices to consumers around the world.”

Precision agriculture describes the use of mobile devices, robotics, field sensors, remote monitoring, and other technologies to manage agricultural production. Farmers and ranchers who use the technology can significantly increase crop yields, streamline operations, and reduce production expenses. In many areas of the United States, reliable, high-speed broadband is not consistently available to support precision agriculture operations.

Specifically, the legislation outlines these tasks for the new FCC task force:

  • Identify and measure current gaps in broadband coverage on cropland and ranchland;
  • Develop policy recommendations, in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of fixed and mobile broadband on cropland and ranchland, with the goal of achieving service on 95 percent of croplands and ranchlands in the United States by 2025;
  • Recommend specific steps the FCC should consider to ensure that available farm data from the USDA is reflected in the development of future FCC programs dedicated to the deployment of broadband infrastructure to croplands and ranchlands; and
  • Develop a public report detailing the status of fixed and mobile broadband coverage on croplands and ranchlands; the projected future connectivity needs of agricultural operations, farmers, and ranchers; and the steps being taken to accurately measure the availability of broadband on croplands and ranchlands and the limitations of current measurement processes.

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a 2014 Farm Bill Conference Committee member, Klobuchar successfully pushed for key provisions in the current Farm Bill – including measures to support rural development projects, conservation programs, agricultural research, and the Rural Energy for America (REAP) program. Recently, her staff held public forums throughout the state to hear firsthand from Minnesotans about their priorities for the Farm Bill’s 2018 reauthorization. Klobuchar regularly does Rural Economy Tours across Minnesota, meeting with local leaders from the agriculture and business communities to discuss priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill.

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has been a leader in pushing to expand and improve communications infrastructure in rural areas. In May, Klobuchar, Wicker and Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the bipartisan Rural Wireless Access Act of 2017 to expand broadband deployment using accurate coverage maps. In April, Klobuchar and Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE) led a bipartisan group of 56 senators in urging the FCC to continue advancing broadband deployment in rural communities. Last year, Klobuchar and Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced legislation to measure the economic impact of broadband on the U.S. economy. Klobuchar, Capito, Senators Angus King (I-ME), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and John Boozman (R-AR) also led 48 senators in urging the Administration to include broadband in any infrastructure initiative.