Lack of reliable broadband restricts agribusiness
Friday, July 12, 2019
Over the past three years, I have had the good fortune to work on a project that has the potential to transform the farming landscape in eastern North Carolina, one that involves harnessing gas produced from hog waste.
As CEO and founder of OptimaBio, our work with Smithfield Foods to capture methane from hog waste, purify that biogas and turn it into electricity has tremendous potential to move beyond the five farms in Duplin County where the project has begun. Doing so, we can address the electricity needs of thousands of homes and businesses with a renewable, clean source of energy while also meeting environmental concerns.
But that potential will best be realized with one key piece of infrastructure that is often lacking: reliable broadband connections.
Each of these sites require that we run, trouble-shoot and monitor equipment remotely. And that requires reliable and fast internet access. 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.
We must buy additional, expensive equipment, and bad weather can easily knock out signals. Radio antennas must be in line of sight with each other, and as we expand to new locations far from existing ones, that means more expense. Even the leaves of tree can cause a loss of communication.
As OptimaBio grows our projects and presence in eastern North Carolina, reliable, robust and affordable internet access will continue to be a constraint, and likely an increasing one as we require more bandwidth.
And our growing needs for data and reliable networks to handle it are not unique in the agribusiness industry.
Everywhere I go, I hear from vendors and others with whom I work about how they are having to craft expensive work-arounds to handle data, or face delays while depending on publicly-available broadband networks.
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.
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.
Mark Maloney is CEO and founder of OptimaBio, a swine waste-to-energy project developer.