Microsoft's Connect Americans Now Initiative Holds Power to Unlock Rural America's Full PotentialFri, 30 Nov 2018 10:14:52 CST
Today, 34 million Americans lack an affordable and reliable broadband connection. Of these, 19.4 million live in rural areas. This digital divide means they are unable to take advantage of economic, health and educational opportunities that exist in other connected communities. Connect Americans Now (CAN) is a Microsoft supported community of concerned citizens, local organizations, rural advocates, and leading innovators committed to taking action to eliminate the digital divide that is holding rural America back. Earlier this month, Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Associate Farm Director Carson Horn, had the chance to speak with Zachary Cikanek, national spokesperson for Connect Americans Now. According to him, it is CAN’s mission to eliminate the rural digital divide by utilizing a model that includes fiber-based, satellite and wireless technologies, leveraging a range of frequencies including TV white spaces. By adopting a solution that brings a wide array of stakeholders to the table, he says it will be possible to connect millions of Americans in a cost-effective manner over the course of a few years rather than a few decades. Listen to their complete conversation, by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
“High-speed broadband internet access for any household is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity in the 21st Century,” Cikanek said. “So, our coalition is working with rural advocates, state level Farm Bureaus, the National Grange and over 200 other members all across the United States to rally support in Washington to open up some wireless spectrum through the FCC so we can unlick some of the new technologies that are available and start closing that digital divide.”
With the agriculture industry becoming increasingly more reliant on new connected software and precision ag technology, Cikanek says this initiative could drastically change the way farmers with limited internet access manage their operations and expose them to the opportunities other more connect farmers have.
“If you are not using precision agriculture today, you are going to struggle continuously to stay competitive in a global economy,” he said. “Farmers in the United States have seen their incomes fall 47 percent over the last five years and the way to succeed requires access to customers around the world, the ability to source equipment from the lowest cost manufacturer and the ability to utilize precision tools to control your irrigation, your pesticide and getting nutrients to the crops where and when it’s needed - and improve your yields. Having robust internet infrastructure is vital to taking advantage of all those tools and staying competitive.”
By working with the FCC to repurpose existing but unused infrastructure as makeshift connectors - things like unused TV channels and other underutilized communication links not specifically made for the internet - broadband signals can be piped through to rural areas and Cikanek says “suddenly, it becomes possible to close that digital divide.”
Not only will this benefit farmers, it will have a significant impact on the rural communities themselves, allowing the citizens that reside there to take full advantage of all the capabilities reliable internet access can offer.
For instance, broadband-enabled telemedicine will allow patients to access specialists and benefit from advanced monitoring services - saving lives in rural communities. It will provide millions of students with the same educational opportunities as their suburban counterparts, empowering them to become more informed in critical areas like math and science so they can thrive in their local communities. High-speed internet access will also enable rural small businesses to expand their customer base and attract new industries to rural communities.
“We’re unlicking the human capital that has been under wraps in rural communities for far too long,” Cikanek remarked. “Unlocking some of these tools is vital to closing that digital divide.”
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