Co-ops can play a role in farm broadband expansion

A leading CoBank economist says farm supply co-ops can lead the way in building on-farm private broadband networks.

Jeff Johnston tells Brownfield farmer co-ops can build their own fixed wireless private networks thanks to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission decision.

“They can deploy a wireless network that has the same quality and, for the most part, the same equipment that Verizon’s deploying that we use, that T-Mobile deploys,” he said. “And that’s a first in the industry.”

He said it would cost a 50-farmer co-op roughly $50,000 to install the network then a recurring cost around $6,000, but…

“The gains that can be realized when you do have access to broadband and therefore precision ag technologies, in terms of reducing overall costs and so forth, are significant and I think are an important component to this as well,” Johnston said.

And Johnston said more than $63 billion of support is available for co-ops to apply for through the recent Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, FCC funds, and the 5G fund for precision ag.

Johnston said an on-farm access points, like an antenna on a grain silo, would provide ample broadband access across a single farm.

“You could use, theoretically, one antenna for 8,000 acres.”

Johnston said estimates point to 19-to-40 million Americans are without broadband access, with most in rural areas. 

Jeff Johnston Interview with Dave Harding

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