Hancock County begins push for rural broadband to aid ag-industry

Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:51 PM CST
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CARTHAGE, Ill. (WGEM) - A new effort is underway to expand broadband internet access to rural parts of Hancock County.

“We’ve got several different places that are offering very solid internet service, it just doesn’t extend to the rural community,” Hancock County Economic Development Executive Director Samantha Harnack said.

Starting Thursday, Jan. 26, several community stakeholders will meet over the next few months as part of a Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program.

Through the United Soybean Board, Benton Institute for Broadband Society, the University of Illinois Extension and Illinois Soybean Association, Harnack said the 16 scheduled meetings will help the county secure future funding to make rural broadband access a reality.

The emphasis of the program aims to help farmers.

Harnack said the Federal Government has given Rebuild Illinois $400 million to the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for a statewide broadband deployment grant program, which is where the county hopes to receive broadband funding from.

In 2021, Harnack said 70% of the county’s gross domestic product (GDP) was through the agriculture industry.

“It is so far reaching that it really is difficult to say how far it could take us into the future,” she said.

In a report given to WGEM News by Hancock County Farm Bureau President Bryan Stevens, which can be viewed below, it shows they expect an over 3% increase in corn yields and soybean yields as a result of rural broadband.

While speedy internet isn’t typically associated with agriculture, sales professional at Martin Tractor, Ryan Weeks said it’s just the opposite.

He said the development of e-commerce puts farmers into a position where they can compare prices online in addition to shopping around for equipment.

“As a dealership, all of our inventory is online and can be looked at online,” Weeks said. “Some of the data that we have to handle, harvest data, planting data, prescriptions, a lot of that could be passed through the internet through email or whatever it may be. Without that service we can’t move fast and it becomes a much more manual task.”

Edgar, McLean, Ogle and Schuyler Counties will also be holding their own broadband infrastructure programs.

Harnack said the immediate next steps include releasing a survey in early February to farmers, rural residents and businesses in addition to conducting internet speed tests.

All meetings will take place at Carl Sandburg College, 305 Sandburg Drive, in Carthage.

If interested in attending, call Harnack at 217-440-8909, or email her at director@growhancock.com.

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