A lack of cell phone towers and reliable Internet service is hurting business in rural Oregon. “We use our cell phones on the farm because we need them to communicate with each other,” said a farmer in Vale, Oregon. “Even with a cell phone booster in the house, our service is marginal.”
Oregon farmers and ranchers typically use cell phones to communicate with other workers, who may be scattered over many acres. They also use their smart phones to control equipment such as their huge irrigation pivots. They conduct business with customers via the phone and track the weather. When there’s an emergency, cell phone communication for help can become a matter of life or death.
Without enough cell towers, calls are frequently dropped, which hampers every aspect of business. Plus, it’s difficult to attract new business to an area that does not have reliable, affordable cell phone service.
The FCC has created the Universal Service Fund (the USF) to ensure that rural residents can get phone services at rates comparable to urban residents. All telecommunications providers contribute a percentage of their end-user revenues to the fund. In the second quarter of 2015, that rate was 17.4%. Even though rural phone users are paying into the fund they often never see the benefits from the fund because rural populations often get ignored.
“We also need good Internet service,” said the same Vale farmer. “When we moved out here, we stumbled on a grant that has been paying for some of our satellite because I could not function without the Internet for my business.”
Today, the FCC recognizes that high-speed Internet is essential and is working to support broadband as well as cell phone service. In October 2011, the Connect America Fund was established to fund both Internet and cell phone communications in rural areas.
As of December, 2013, approximately 23 million Americans lack access to infrastructure capable of providing 10/1 Mbps fixed broadband. The Connect America Fund is poised to invest more than $20 billion over the next five years to bring broadband to unserved rural communities.
For our farmer in Vale, improvement in service can’t happen fast enough.
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