Broadband on Modern Farm

Too many policy and decision makers have little idea what life is like in flyover country, let alone on the farm. Many have been convinced that people living in rural areas either have no interest in or use for fast, reliable, and affordable connections to the Internet. This idea is actively pushed by powerful companies that don't want to invest in anything better than last-generation DSL or wireless in areas that won't be sufficiently profitable.

So it is worth pointing out the many ways in which farmers are already connecting to the Internet and incorporating modern communications technology into their lives. Robert Bell's "What Do Rural People Need Broadband For Anyway?" column offers some insight.

Errotabere farms 3,500 acres (14 sq km) in the state of California. He and his staff use the Web to communicate with and deliver documents to government officials, manufacturers, packers and retailers. His staff catches up with pest control advisors via email, and Errotabere checks prices and trades agricultural commodity futures for his crops online.

Another California farmer, Alec Smith, says that one of the most important advances available online is in pest control. When plants show signs of disease, Smith's staff snaps photos and emails them to plant disease specialists at universities, who email back advice on combating the disease.

Mike Smith, who runs a small, 40-acre (162 sq m) farm in the same area, sells his crops directly to customers online. He posts photos of his farm on Facebook, updates the farm Web site weekly with available crops and runs a blog. Customers email their orders. "The Internet means survival to a lot of small farmers," he told the AP. "If you don't have a Web site, nobody's going to know about you."

He has other examples, including the very real problem that life in remote areas can be lonely. We are social animals -- being connected to the Internet allows people who are alone to still connect with others in very important ways.