From Pigs to Power, North Carolina Ag Needs Broadband Not Barriers

When rural broadband advocates talk about the connectivity needs of farmers, they often discuss real-time crop prices, monitoring the status of fields, or the ability to submit data-intensive reports. An innovator in North Carolina has a different take on why fast, affordable, reliable connectivity is important to his ag-related business and it involves hog waste. He explains how North Carolina’s municipal networks and cooperatives need to be able to operate without restriction if the state’s agribusiness is to advance.

Methane is Power, but Broadband is a Must

In a recent opinion piece by Mark Maloney, the CEO and founder of OptimaBio writes that his company is developing a method for capturing methane from hog waste and transforming the biogas into electricity. According to Maloney, the pilot program has the potential to expand in order to provide affordable energy while also reducing harm to the environment.

A key element that OptimaBio requires, however, is reliable and fast connectivity, which isn't readily available in many rural North Carolina communities yet: 

The equipment that allows this conversion produces large amounts of data to assist us in understanding operations and avoid downtime.

That data is of no value if we cannot transmit it over a reliable communications network.

Today, without reliable broadband, we use radio signals to get the job done. It’s not ideal.

He describes how weather and trees can interrupt radio signals that must be in line of sight of each other, and how the company must purchase expensive equipment in order to use radio signals. At this stage, there is no other alternative in the rural areas where they operate.

A Chronic Problem

Maloney writes that his company is one of many in the agriculture industry that struggles due to poor rural connectivity in North Carolina. In order to allow agribusiness to pursue innovations that can solve problems and find improvements, the state needs to remove onerous hurdles.

As our state policymakers and legislators examine the issues of broadband access, they need to bring all available options and partners to the table – including electric co-ops and local governments. It is imperative that we remove all hurdles that hinder local governments and electric co-ops from working with private internet providers to create the best solution for the end-users.

Small Steps Move North Carolina Forward

This spring, Governor Roy Cooper signed S 310 into law, which allows electric cooperatives expand easements to apply to fiber optic infrastructure. As the need for broadband in the agribusiness sector and other mostly rural industries intensifies, lawmakers will face more pressure to remove other restrictions hindering deployment from local government and co-ops. Large, national Internet access companies have repeatedly indicated that they won’t expand fiber in rural North Carolina without substantial subsidies. Removing restrictions that discourage cooperatives and municipalities from investing in broadband infrastructure will bring more resources forward to attack lack of rural broadband access. 

As Maloney writes:

It’s nearly 2020. Our farms and agribusiness industry are adopting modern, data-intensive technology that is transforming rural North Carolina. We can no longer wait for our rural communication networks to catch up.