The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation recently passed two state policies regarding rural broadband at its 2018 Annual Convention. The newly adopted policies allow the organization to support broadband and internet connectivity to rural Mississippi in the state legislature and in Congress to improve precision agriculture, education, healthcare and quality of life.

The first policy passed states, “We support legislation to amend state law to authorize rural distribution cooperatives across the state to provide broadband internet services.”

The second policy passed states, “We support the expansion of fiber optic lines being run in rural Mississippi for the use of high speed broadband internet connectivity to improve the accuracy of precision agriculture, marketability of livestock, education and healthcare of rural Mississippi.

Rural broadband serves as a critical pathway to global markets for industries across Mississippi, including agriculture.

“Farmers and ranchers depend on broadband, just as they do highways, railways and waterways, to ship food, fuel, and fiber across the country and around the world,” Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation President Mike McCormick said. “From a broader perspective, rural communities need access to health care, government services, educational materials, and business opportunities.”

The passage of these policies by Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation delegates who represent more than 192,000 member families across Mississippi comes after a full year of activity revolving around rural broadband.

In December 2017, U.S. Congressman Trent Kelly, a member of Small Business Committee, introduced the Small Business Broadband and Emerging Information Technology Act (H.R. 4677). This bill addresses the bipartisan push for nationwide broadband that specifically targets small businesses’ needs and potential.  The bill specifically improves certain programs of the Small Business Administration to better assist small businesses in accessing broadband technology, and for other purposes.

In early 2018, U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, advanced the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act (S. 2343). This bill created a task force to focus on the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in rural America. The taskforce will propose policy recommendations to promote the deployment of fixed and mobile broadband across ninety-five percent of the cropland and ranchlands in the United States by 2025.

Additionally, as chair of the subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, Wicker has challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s assessment of mobile broadband coverage across Mississippi. The assessment reports only a fraction of the state does not have access to a consistent 4G LTE connection.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, 39 percent of rural Americans lack access to standard broadband service, compared to only four percent of urban Americans, or an estimated 34 million people.

“As technology has advanced, the rural broadband divide has become a larger issue to rural Mississippians,” McCormick said. “We hope by have policy regarding rural broadband, we will be able support the legislators working to fix this problem. We want to make it easier for our farmers to do their jobs, for our children to succeed in school, and for our communities to have access to immediate healthcare.”