I am a fifth-generation farmer, wife, mother of four young children and vice-chair of my county board of supervisors. We farm with our family in Southeast Nebraska, growing corn and soybeans in addition to a beef cow/calf operation. Like most farms, broadband has become essential to our work: downloading agriculture programs, livestock monitoring systems, utilizing precision agriculture equipment, basic connectivity for information and emailing, etc. However, our connectivity isn’t adequate for doing business.
Farms are a tough business case for internet providers when the cost per mile is significant for fiber, up to $30,000 to $40,000 according to some estimates, and there are miles between farms. So how do we connect them? What can we do?
I was serving on the Gage County Board of Supervisors when we received our American Rescue Plan Act funds during the Covid-19 pandemic. The board decided that broadband was the best way to invest those dollars to ensure the future of our communities. I led our broadband committee in the quest to get fiber to our rural residents. We wrote a request for proposal, selected a provider and created a contract, a process that took over a year to complete. We established a public/private partnership with Nextlink that will cover about 40% of our county with fiber, reaching almost 1,000 homes.
Consider talking to your local, state and federal lawmakers about this critically important matter.
During the fall of 2022, the Federal Communications Commission released its updated draft National Broadband Map and asked for stakeholders to review it to help improve it. This map is critically important because the National Telecommunications and Information Administration will use it to distribute billions of dollars in broadband program funding to each state. The map was developed to provide an accurate and reliable picture of broadband availability across the country.
I reviewed the maps and immediately found inaccuracies. For example, within 12 square miles around my house, there were 12 missing locations – homes not marked as Broadband Serviceable Locations. My initial thought was, how can federal funds be accurately distributed when so many rural homes are missing? And if I could fix the county, could it be scaled up for the state?
Through our work with the county broadband project, I partnered with the Southeast Nebraska Development District. We developed a methodology to correct the FCC maps with the help of public power. Utilizing electric meter data locations, we overlaid the FCC map and ran a 250-foot buffer around each meter location. If there was not an FCC BSL identified within a buffer, we manually checked each location. Through this process, we identified more than 11,000 missing BSLs on the FCC map in the state of Nebraska, the majority of which were in rural communities.
Along with the fabric challenge, I filed challenges to the availability reported by Internet Service Providers. Identifying these rural locations will ensure tens of thousands of rural Nebraskans are able to get connected. I encourage everyone to review the map for accuracy in your local area. And consider talking to your local, state and federal lawmakers about this critically important matter!
We are fortunate because our state Farm Bureau, like many across the U.S., has made increased access to broadband a priority. Here in Nebraska, Gov. Pillen prioritizing rural broadband is just as important to rural residents as efforts in 1936 to pass the Rural Electrification Act, which brought electricity to all U.S. citizens.
I want my kids to grow up where I have and become the sixth generation on our family farm. Having broadband will give them the opportunity to participate in the 21st century economy.
Emily Haxby is a Farm Bureau member in Nebraska, where she farms with her family and serves on her county board of supervisors.