Innovations connecting rural Nebraska
By Sen. Deb Fischer
The Grand Island Independent
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of connectivity. From virtual learning to telehealth, remaining connected is critical to keeping all communities — especially rural communities — safe, healthy, and in touch. A key component of achieving this connectivity is Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which uses embedded sensors in devices and everyday objects to enable the transmission of data between devices and to the internet.
Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have kept grocery store shelves stocked throughout this pandemic, and many have relied on IoT-based precision agriculture to increase yields, lower costs, and conserve resources. This includes using IoT technology to identify pests, crop diseases, and nutrient deficiencies in real-time, monitor soil condition and irrigation, and remotely control their equipment for more efficient data-driven insights. Nebraska agriculture is central to our state’s economy, with the industry contributing over $21 billion annually. Precision agriculture brings major benefits to our state’s economic engine.
There is an exciting partnership going on in Arnold that highlights exactly how this technology can benefit our state. Global company Paige Electric recently established Paige Wireless, based in Columbus. The company launched a pilot project of its low-power, wide-area network in Arnold in conjunction with other local organizations such as the Custer Public Power District, Great Plains Communications and its existing fiber network, as well as through a co-op with wireless internet service providers.
The co-op has brought great benefits to the community. It provides both residential and commercial internet service at speeds comparable to service in urban areas of the state. The network also supports the community through precision ag connectivity. For example, the Smith Farm outside of Arnold had traditional DSL internet in their home, but were unable to connect at the barn—their place of business. Through the co-op’s network, the farm now has access to “walk around WIFI” at their barn that enables real-time data management such as video analytics to test for crop nutrient deficiencies. Further, Arnold Public Schools have been able to expand career exploration activities for students using cropland-focused network technology. In another example, the Twin Platte Natural Resources Department formed a public-private partnership with Paige to deploy 350 sensors across the district, allowing producers to track water supply in real-time.
These are exciting developments, and they highlight why I have long been an advocate for using IoT technology to increase rural connectivity. This January, the Senate passed the DIGIT Act, bipartisan legislation I introduced along with Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The bill would create a working group of experts, including agriculture stakeholders, to provide recommendations to Congress on how to facilitate the development of IoT technology and maximize deployment of the technology within the United States. I look forward to this legislation passing the House and making its way to President Trump’s desk.
At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity in our lives, Nebraska is serving as a role model for other states when it comes to forging innovative public-private communications and technology partnerships. I will continue to be a voice for Nebraska and work to make sure that all of our communities have the connectivity they need.
U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., serves as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Commerce Committee.