Updated July 23: 

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai recently announced the formation of a new task force dedicated to advising the Commission on policies aimed at delivering connectivity so that American agriculture producers can use and benefit from precision agriculture. The task force, which stems from the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop policy recommendations to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of broadband Internet access service on unserved agricultural land. According to AgriMarketing, the committee has a goal of achieving "reliable capabilities on 95% of agricultural land in the U.S. by 2025." FCC data indicates that 39% of rural Americans lack access to to minimum broadband speed service.

“As I’ve traveled the country, I’ve seen the amazing efficiencies, innovations, and improvements that high-speed Internet brings to today’s farms and ranches,” said chairman Pai. “I’ve met the operator of a Kansas feedlot using fiber and wireless connectivity to monitor every cow’s unique in take. I’ve met an Idaho farmer using everything from an LTE-based soil analysis app to drones to improve productivity and reduce costs on his potato farm. And I’ve seen other farms and ranches from Virginia to California that are using technology to put more and better food on our tables. This is the present and the future of American agriculture, and we must do whatever we can to support these producers and enhance precision agriculture.”

Chairman Pai added, “I want to thank Secretary Perdue and his team for focusing on this area, and I look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Agriculture as we launch this task force.”

The new federal advisory committee, formally called the Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States, will consult with the Department of Agriculture and collaborate with public and private stakeholders in the agriculture and technology fields. Federal advisory committees have an important role in providing agencies like the FCC with outside, expert advice on policy matters.

"Many of the latest yield-maximizing and environmentally friendly farming and ranching techniques require broadband connections for data collection and analysis performed both on the farm and in remote data centers," American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall wrote last year, urging lawmakers to support the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018.

"Today's farmers and ranchers are using precision agricultural techniques to make decisions that impact the amount of fertilizer they need to purchase and apply to the field, the amount of water needed to sustain the crop, and the amount and type of herbicides or pesticides they may need to apply," Duvall wrote.

The FCC is seeking nominations for participation on this 15 member task force that will include agricultural producers, along with representatives of Tribal agriculture, Internet service providers, the electric cooperative industry, the satellite industry, precision agriculture equipment manufacturers, state and local governments, and representatives with relevant expertise in broadband network data collection, geospatial analysis and coverage mapping.

According to AgriMarketing, this Task Force aims to accomplish the following:

  • Identify and measure current gaps in the availability of broadband internet service on agricultural land;
  • Develop policy recommendations to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of broadband internet service on unserved agricultural land, with a goal of achieving reliable capabilities on 95 percent of agricultural land in the U.S. by 2025; 
  • Promote effective policy and regulatory solutions that encourage the adoption of broadband internet service on farms and ranches and promote precision agriculture; 
  • Recommend specific new rules or amendments to existing FCC rules to achieve the goals and purposes of the policy recommendations described in the second bullet; 
  • Recommend specific steps the FCC should take to obtain reliable and standardized data measurements of the availability of broadband internet service to target FCC funding for the deployment of broadband internet service to unserved agricultural land; and 
  • Recommend specific steps the commission should consider to ensure the expertise of the USDA secretary and available farm data are reflected in future FCC programs dedicated to the infrastructure deployment of broadband internet service and to direct available funding to unserved agricultural land.