FCC head attends cattle sale to see how ag industry uses high-speed broadband to market cattle
December 10, 2018
A new and surprising face was spotted at the Ginger Hill Angus annual production sale held a few weeks ago at the auction barn in Culpepper, Va.
Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr was in the stands to witness the cattle sale and see how the agricultural industry utilizes high speed broadband service to market cattle and conduct business.
"The FCC is very focused on trying to close the digital divide and give everyone a fair shot at next generation connectivity," Carr said. "Being in Culpepper County really brought home to us the economic opportunity that broadband can enable, whether it's running a business or an online cattle auction."
While at the auction, Carr, and his policy adviser Evan Swartztrauber, spent time with individuals who were working the sale and discovered how broadband was a critical component to running the cattle auction.
"Pre-Internet, a good turnout for a cattle auction in rural America might be 40-50 people," Swartztrauber said. "With broadband, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of buyers can participate in the bidding, which helps determine a better market value for the cattle. Instead of costly direct mail advertising, and shipping cattle around to different sale sights, many ranchers can just advertise and sell directly to customers online. This is just one example of the broader economic benefits of broadband in rural America that aren't necessarily intuitive to people like me who grew up in New York City."
Carr and his team had met with representatives of the United States Cattlemen's Association during the organizations annual fly-in, where they discussed the existing hurdles rural America faces in regards to accessing high-speed broadband service to their communities.
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"Closing the digital divide between rural and urban areas is an issue of vital importance to U.S. cattle producers," said Lia Biondo, USCA policy director. "We were pleased when Commissioner Carr visited us during our Washington, D.C., Fly-In this year to discuss how the FCC is bringing broadband to rural America — and even more surprised when he asked to see the benefits of that fast, reliable access in action!"
Following that meeting, USCA extended an invitation for Carr to attend this cattle auction. Carr's appearance at the sale barn may be one of the first recorded instances of an FCC commissioner sitting on the auction block.
"Livestock auctions are increasingly using video sale services as a way to expand their audience and livestream to a whole new pool of potential bidders," Biondo said. "Not only does this improve business, it has allowed for increased access to real-time market information and resources for potential customers and young producers, without having to drive hours to reach the auction site."
In his first year as FCC Commissioner, Carr has traveled to 23 states as he works to better understand the challenges facing rural America in accessing high speed broadband.
"The commissioner has seen in his travels how broadband can be used for high-tech smart ag — from feed and crop monitoring to fly traps that use artificial intelligence to analyze pests," Swartztrauber said.
"My travels have given me a first-hand sense of the challenges that come with broadband deployment, and this has helped shape policies that can reduce costs and cover the regulatory fees for big cities to effectively deploy broadband to rural areas," Carr said. "In 2019, we will continue our work of spreading broadband deployment to every rural area through regulatory relief and regulatory reform."
Carr mentioned a trip to Compton, N.D., where antennas were being attached to the grain elevator to beam broadband to that rural community.
"Compton is four hours away from the closest Apple store; this rural community, and others just like it, deserve a fair shot at broadband connectivity. Big cities will always get next generation connectivity, but for these rural areas, regulatory reform will help relieve the costs of deployment to give everyone a chance for the opportunities that come with high speed service."
Carr's team is currently working on an initiative that would bring telehealth services to rural America with $100 million being invested to disperse this technology across the country.
"Remote access to quality health care is really important for farming communities," he said. "Rural clinics and hospitals are shutting down by the dozens, and one way to close that gap is through telehealth services. Take, for example, Avera Ecare in Sioux Falls, S.D. This one facility houses many health care experts, and from that single location and a broadband connection, they can plug into brick and mortar health care facilities across the country. This allows these small community health care providers to leverage their expertise to participate in the delivery of care."
And just like any technology, even as 4G is being deployed to rural communities, 5G service is the latest and greatest.
"The U.S. leads the world in 4G LTE, which is the gold standard in what's currently deployed," Carr said. "As a result of that, the U.S. has also become the technology and innovation hub of the world. Now we are in the transition to 5G, which is a better, faster version of what's available to folks right now. The U.S. is in a global race to 5G, and at the federal level we are taking steps to be competitive with South Korea and China in that race. We can do that by building small, backpack-size antennas, but we'll need hundreds of thousands of those to deploy the 5G service. By cutting down the regulatory tape, we can bring this to fruition."
Of course, the United States is demographically much different than other urban, densely populated countries. Carr said this becomes a challenge for connecting every person across the country.
"We are focused on bringing high speed fiber fixed connections to rural America," Carr said. "With a $10 billion/year universal service program, we are reorienting that funding to help spread broadband deployment to rural areas where the economic incentives don't necessarily benefit private companies."
"USCA's main policy priority is strengthening the U.S. cattle producer's bottom line," Biondo said. "Commissioner Carr is championing the deployment of fast, reliable broadband access in rural areas — which strengthens the nation's farming and ranching industries and helps them to compete in an increasingly more global market. We were excited to welcome Commissioner Carr to the auction block at the Culpepper Agricultural Enterprises in Virginia and look forward to working with the FCC to continue the expansion of fast, reliable broadband access into rural areas." ❖
— Radke is a cattle rancher, freelance writer and agricultural speaker from Mitchell, S.D. She can be reached at email@example.com.