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Community Projects 23 December 2016

Bridging California’s Rural Digital Divide

Ilda Simao
By Ilda SimaoFormer Chapter Grants Programme Manager, Internet Society Foundation

This week, the Internet Society announced the six recipients of funding from its Beyond the Net initiative. Among these amazing projects (you can read more about them here) is the San Francisco Bay Chapter’s Bridging California’s Rural/Urban Digital Divide with Mobile Broadband initiative. The following post about this unique and important project was written by SF Bay ISOC Chapter member Jenna Spagnolo.

A shift has occurred in agriculture: farmers are not only relying on clouds, but increasingly, on the cloud. With the click of a mouse, farmers can find out which fields need water and chemical inputs in real time. The use of this technology, called precision agriculture, is helping farming become more productive, environmentally friendly and is revolutionizing how our food is cultivated.

The Food Basket of the World

California’s Central Valley seems like it would be at the forefront of this shift towards precision agriculture. Called “the food basket of the world,” California produces 70% of the total fruit and tree nut farm value and 55% of the vegetable farm value for the United States, all within driving distance from Silicon Valley’s technology hub. But ironically, California’s agriculture has fallen behind.

Lack of Access

Many rural communities in California lack reliable, fast mobile broadband that can keep them competitive with global agriculture and safe-guard our environment. While California has a program for ground truthing reported broadband speeds, the program prioritizes households, not farms, and considers farming areas “unpopulated” in terms of need. The result is that rural economies in California are falling behind due to inadequate broadband access.


The San Francisco-Bay Area ISOC Chapter, is taking this problem very seriously and is working in collaboration with the Internet Society (ISOC) to alleviate it. The Chapter just received funding through ISOC’s Beyond the Net funding program to support the “Bridging California’s Rural/Urban Digital Divide with Mobile Broadband” project, which will collect data on mobile broadband performance in Yolo County – a 90 minute drive from San Francisco – and compare that performance to what mobile providers are claiming they’re delivering and to what farmers need for precision agriculture.

Data and Policy
Information collected will be used to report to state officials and inform public policy making on rural broadband. The Chapter will be working together with California State University (CSU) Geographical Information Center (GIC), Chico and Valley Vision in order to develop the most robust report it can.

Innovation in California has always propelled the rest of the USA. We need to look no further than Silicon Valley to confirm that. Now we’re looking just outside the confines of Silicon Valley and towards our rural neighbors to help strengthen broadband capacity in Yolo County.

Keep up to date with the “Bridging California’s Rural/Urban Digital Divide with Mobile Broadband” project on this blog and on the Chapter’s website.

About the SF-Bay Area Chapter

The San Francisco Bay Area ISOC Chapter has almost 2,000 members and serves California, including the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, by promoting the core values of the Internet Society.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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