August 1, 2023 – A pair of legislators Thursday introduced a bipartisan bill to expand “last acre” broadband connectivity across farmlands, aimed to facilitate producers’ access to precision agriculture technology.
The Linking Access to Spur Technology for Agriculture Connectivity in Rural Environments bill, or LAST ACRE, introduced by Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. and Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., would establish a new competitive grant under the existing Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program to advance connectivity tailored to farmland structures and devices such as tractors, combines, irrigation systems and drones.
The bill, which builds on recommendations by the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Task Force, would also direct the USDA to revise its questionnaire in the Census of Agriculture, a comprehensive survey conducted by the department every five year to collect detailed data on agricultural practices, production, and the demographics of farmers and ranchers. The update would provide USDA with information about the service speeds and broadband usage purposes.
“Producers looking to adopt precision agriculture technologies need network connectivity that extends far past their residences,” said Fischer in a press release Thursday. “They need to be able to make real-time decisions that increase yields and employ resources more efficiently. Our LAST ACRE Act will ensure that USDA has the strategy and resources needed to support last acre connectivity.”
Tim Donovan, CEO of the industry group Competitive Carrier Associations, also voiced support for the bill in a Thursday’s statement.
“This bill recognizes the critical role wireless connectivity plays in rural America and provides opportunities to expand and augment those networks,” said Donovan. “The Last Acre Connection Act of 2023 can help federal USDA support programs provide the ubiquitous wireless connectivity our country’s agriculture community’s diverse needs demand.”
Dozens of other organizations in the telecom and agriculture industries have also come out in support of the bill, including the American Farm Bureau, Association of Equipment Manufacturers, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association.
FCC proposed fine against wireless companies
The Federal Communications Commission on Friday proposed a $20 million fine against carriers Q Link Wireless and Hello Mobile Telecom for allegedly failing to authenticate customers before granting them online access to their telephone usage database.
The database, called the Customer Proprietary Network Information, contains personal information such as called phone numbers, location, time, and billing of calls. The FCC’s investigation found the companies relied on readily available biographical information and account information to provide online access to CPNI, which violates the CPNI rules to protect customer data privacy.
The probe also uncovered the companies’ alleged failure to implement “reasonable data security standards,” exposing customers to the possibility of data leakage and misuse.
“Because of the volume of information they possess and the nature of the services they provide, telecommunications companies are high-value targets for cybercriminals and foreign adversaries,” said Loyaan Egal, FCC Enforcement Chief and Head of the Privacy and Data Protection Task Force in a notice Friday. “With this enforcement action, all telecommunications service providers are on notice that protecting customers’ data should be their highest priority, and we will use our authorities to ensure that they comply with their obligations to do so.”
The FCC is currently waiting to hear back from the companies, and the commission would then take further actions after considering the presented evidence and legal arguments.
The latest dispute adds to Q Link’s long history of tussling with the FCC, following a $62 million proposed fine in January for allegedly making excessive claims through the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.
UTOPIA Fiber’s has new director of government affairs
UTOPIA Fiber, a Utah-based community fiber network, on Monday welcomed aboard former West Valley City’s assistant manager Nicole Cottle as the new director of government affairs.
In her new role at UTOPIA Fiber, Cottle will manage relationships with local, state, and federal lawmakers, helping to create and guide public policy that promotes the deployment of high-speed fiber infrastructure, according to the announcement on Monday.
“I’m enormously proud to join UTOPIA Fiber,” said Cottle. “By providing essential infrastructure and allowing for competition, UTOPIA Fiber helps transform the communities it serves and I’m very excited to assume my new role with the company.”
Cottle is also a newly appointed Honorary Commander for the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base, and she serves on the boards of the Utah Land Use Institute and the Our Hometown Foundation.
For the past 25 years, Cottle has worked in various city government roles, including at the Olene Walker Housing Trust Fund, the Intergenerational Poverty Board, the Indigent Defense Commission, the Inland Port Authority, and Utah Infrastructure Agency Board, the financial arm of UTOPIA Fiber.
“Nicole’s legendary 25-years as a municipal leader strongly position UTOPIA Fiber for the future,” said Roger Timmerman, executive director and chief executive of UTOPIA Fiber. “Now more than ever, residents and businesses across Utah and the West depend on high-speed connectivity. Having Nicole on the team will help align policy to meet the needs of local communities, residents, businesses, and all their digital infrastructure needs.”
The announcement comes shortly after Bountiful City announced that its municipal broadband network project would be continuing in partnership with UTOPIA Fiber, beginning in August, after a temporary setback.