Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Need for Broadband Networks in Local Food Systems

Although some "local" farm telecommunications can take place with relatively slow speed private networks (such as those which support remote low data rate sensors for water or nutrients) and basic "telephone" calls, the bulk of the information needed for the Local Food farmers and eaters has trended along with the Internet traffic patterns generally: more and more information comprises richer media: video and audio.
"Digital Divide" has been used to describe the disparity of computer and network access - typically in the context of relative incomes. In other words, poorer people use (or have access to) significantly less computing (and networks) than wealthier people. With respect to Local Food Systems, the Local Food System digital divide breaks along geographic disparities - especially population densities - and the willingness of incumbent network providers (telephone companies and cable companies) to provide access to the "thinner" parts of their service areas.
And these poorly served areas are rural, holding farmers, ranchers, and consumers who cannot reasonably gain access to higher capacity networks. The network potential benefits resemble the effects of Rural Electrification during the 1930s. Illinois citizens - particularly at the south end of the state - are merely one generation removed from kerosene lanterns and battery powered radios.
History Does Not Repeat Itself But It Often Rhymes
Attributed to Mark Twain
Regarding Rural Electrification from
"In 1935 the Rural Electric Administration (REA) was created to bring electricity to rural areas like the Tennessee Valley. In his 1935 article "Electrifying the Countryside," Morris Cooke, the head of the REA, stated that
In addition to paying for the energy he used, the farmer was expected to advance to the power company most or all of the costs of construction. Since utility company ideas as to what constituted sound rural lines have been rather fancy, such costs were prohibitive for most farmers. [ footnote]
Many groups opposed the federal government's involvement in developing and distributing electric power, especially utility companies, who believed that the government was unfairly competing with private enterprise (See the Statement of John Battle ). Some members of Congress who didn't think the government should interfere with the economy, believed that TVA was a dangerous program that would bring the nation a step closer to socialism. Other people thought that farmers simply did not have the skills needed to manage local electric companies.

By 1939 the REA had helped to establish 417 rural electric cooperatives, which served 288,000 households. The actions of the REA encouraged private utilities to electrify the countryside as well. By 1939 rural households with electricity had risen to 25 percent. The enthusiasm that greeted the introduction of electric power can be seen in the remarks of Rose Scearce.

When farmers did receive electric power their purchase of electric appliances helped to increase sales for local merchants. Farmers required more energy than city dwellers, which helped to offset the extra cost involved in bringing power lines to the country."

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