A new national report found that Virginia agriculture could grow by 18% if broadband technology is extended to underserved communities.
“In the western part of the state and elsewhere you have huge spots where they not only don’t have high-speed internet, where they can’t upload the quantity of data, they also don’t have access in general,” said Ben Rowe, national affairs coordinator for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture report A Case for Rural Broadband argues that farmers in rural America need access to broadband for high-speed uploads and downloads. The Federal Communications Commission defines broadband as 25 megabits per second download speed and 3 megabits per second upload speed. Even a farmer with that level of broadband would spend significant time waiting to upload photos.
In Virginia, 28.9% of rural residents do not have broadband access, according to the FCC.
At the state and federal levels, there are grants or credits offered to broadband providers to help offset the cost of extending high-speed connectivity to rural Americans. However, Rowe said those funds are allocated using census blocks, and the accounting method used sometimes can be misleading.
“If there’s a single broadband connection anywhere in that census block, that whole block gets painted as getting connected. So, you might be miles and miles away from that broadband connection. It might be a firehouse or a school or something that has a high-speed satellite uplink, but because of that when the government is looking at connectivity it shows your area as being connected and you’re lower on the rankings to get these funds.”
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-1st, has co-sponsored legislation to improve data collection efforts so that broadband providers show exactly where they have connected high-speed internet, rather than relying on census tracts. Additionally, the House of Representatives has passed an amendment to add $55 million to the annual Agriculture Appropriations Bill that would help expand broadband access to rural communities.