Within the broadband discussion around the digital divide, there is a fight amongst providers and policymakers for the solution to building critical infrastructure. Is it fiber? Is it wireless and 5G? Is it low-earth orbit (LEO) satellites? The missing truth is that all of these technologies are necessary—and so is cybersecurity.
We need to step back and look at what we are trying to achieve—getting the unserved to be served. There are many factors to consider in this simple task. If we make it too simple though, we miss major economic drivers. Precision Agriculture and Smart Cities are going to change the fundamental nature of flyover country in the next decade. It is a multi-billion dollar opportunity for our economy. For rural America, farm labor will be a large part of this change when factoring in the capabilities of technology advances. I have little doubt Precision Agriculture (a topic being addressed by an FCC Task Force in cooperation with the USDA) will encompass much of the next Farm Bill. However, the components of federal funding are critical to achieving this effort.
Precision Agriculture is a national and world need because of the ability to improve production to feed the world. Here I see a tremendous driver for developing broadband infrastructure, yet it is also one of the most unserved areas with too little support to realize the $65 billion impact on our food sector. There are a lot of individual camps, including wireless providers and national carriers but rural connectivity hasn’t improved enough, and connectivity alone isn’t the entire problem. Fiber is needed to a certain location for backhaul and low latency, and then users need other items for wireless connections to finish the job. 5G and Precision Ag cannot get done without fiber. Yet, Precision Ag cannot get done with only fiber. Without the technology to integrate systems at the last mile—whether it’s the components at the end of the fiber line or the wireless tower along with what is needed at the farm or manufacturing site—the network is useless.
We also need to ensure cybersecurity isn’t overlooked in the conversation about broadband. Cyberattacks happen because we don’t focus on this need until it is too late. It must be a part of the technologies that are funded at the last mile installation, along with 5G/Private LTE. One key reason: cybersecurity affects manufacturing and the nation’s food supply. Just ask JBS USA in Grand Island, Nebraska. A ransomware attack on May 30, 2021 impacted meat production, causing ripple effects across multiple industry sectors and drove up wholesale meat prices. The company paid $11 million in bitcoin to attackers to regain control over IT systems.
Building for the long haul, too
We must build infrastructure to last as long as possible—that is responsible governing. Infrastructure with public dollars needs to last more than 5 years. Additionally, redundancy in communications systems is key; in other words, it isn’t enough to have one service provider for a town and say “We’re done here.” Multiple providers are needed. We also need resiliency (the ability to maintain reliable service) and security.
Yet, the reality is once someone has service, the newly served lose much eligibility for public dollars to invest in broadband. Many suburbs are seeing this effect now. Over the last 10 years, they built systems that lasted 5 years and now complain of being left behind in the fight for symmetrical speeds as the demand for bandwidth surpasses the design of the systems. Redundancy is key and therefore, ongoing investment is needed to ensure communities are well served now, and well into the future. By bringing underserved and rural areas into the digital economy, we can enable new opportunities for growth and help ensure our national economy stays on track.
About the author
Chad Rupe is Market President, Citizens Bank and Trust in Nebraska, and Member of RCI ACRES. Rupe previously served as Rural Utilities Service Administrator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. As a presidential appointee, Rupe ran the agency responsible for a portfolio of $64 billion in loan and grant programs to rural electric, water, and telecommunications utility providers.
DISCLAIMER: Guest posts are submitted content. The views expressed in this blog are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Edge Industry Review (EdgeIR.com).