JAMESTOWN, N.D. — About 300 people were nominated to serve on the Federal Communications Commission’s Precision ag task force, and Seth Arndorfer said it was “an honor” to be one of 15 people from across the country selected to serve on the group.

The task force, announced in June 2019 as the “Task Force for Reviewing Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States,” is tasked with advising the FCC on policies “aimed at delivering connectivity so that American agriculture producers can use and benefit from precision agriculture.”

The task force stemmed from the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, which reauthorized spending from the 2014 Farm Bill.

“Our responsibility is to provide the FCC with guidance on legislation and rules for future funding, along with the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) on precision ag initiatives in the U.S.,” said Arndorfer, the CEO of Dakota Carrier Network, owned by North Dakota’s 14 independent rural telecommunications companies.

Broadband, Arndorfer told a crowd at the Precision Ag Summit in Jamestown on Jan. 20, has been identified as being a requirement for sustainable life. North Dakota is among the leaders in connectivity, which Arndorfer said is largely because of the work of DCN’s owner companies, which started out as telephone cooperatives. When Arndorfer asked how many people in the audience were not connected to broadband at their farms, only five hands went up.

“We need that quality connection for our kids to have a quality education, for us to receive quality healthcare in rural America,” he said. “We use it for financial transactions, we use it for monitoring our farms, our yields, our soil temperatures. Everything relies on quality broadband.

And these companies realized that, and they’ve really made the investment in fiber. Over $1.3 billion has been spent on fiber in North Dakota by these companies in the past 10 years.”

While North Dakota has one of the highest connection rates in the country, there are still spots without service, he said. DCN’s companies continue to work on expanding service, with the help of federal grants and loans and their own investments, he said. And that, in part, is to support precision agriculture.

“In order for precision ag to be rolled out ubiquitously throughout the state, we have to have connectivity ubiquitously throughout the state,” he said.

The precision ag task force held its first meeting in December, which Arndorfer said largely involved talking about expectations, rules and time obligations. The next meeting is in March, one of three meetings planned for 2020.

The group has four working areas:

  • Mapping and analyzing connectivity on ag lands.

  • Examining current and future connectivity demand for precision ag.

  • Encouraging adoption of precision ag and availability of high-quality jobs on connected farms .

  • Accelerating broadband deployment on unserved agricultural lands.

While Arndorfer will get to tell North Dakota’s story, he also said he is excited “just to learn” from the others involved in the task force to “make sure North Dakota stays a leader in providing state of the art connectivity in precision ag.”

As “a fourth-generation farm kid,” Arndorfer said he’s most excited to see how his two words, agriculture and technology, can come together “to solve a real world problem.”