January 28, 2015 4:00 am •
By Tim Hoskins, Iowa Farmer Today
MANNING — An agribusiness located several miles out of this rural Carroll County town relies on its access to reliable, high-speed internet.
Puck Custom Enterprises makes manure pump systems that can be monitored and controlled through the internet, says Operations Manager Jeff Blum.
The company has a direct connection to Manning’s high-speed internet via a tower antenna on a hill near town and a receiver on the company’s building.
Jason Ehlers, IT technician for Manning Municipal Communications & Television Systems Utility, says community leaders in the town of 1,500 decided in the 1990s to invest in high-speed internet as an economic development tool.
Earlier this year, the town was recognized as a Certified Connected Community by Connect Iowa. It was the first town under 5,000 residents to be certified by the organization that works to promote broadband access and use.
Ron Reischl, Main Street Manning board president, says they have several public wi-fi hot spots throughout the town. The school uses the high-speed internet, and there is a dedicated connection for the hospital, he says.
Ehlers says the town has seen an increase in the amount of young people returning or staying in the community in the past decade, and Reischl points to high-speed internet access as one contributing factor. Just like in more urban, well-connected areas, residents of Manning are using that high-speed internet to watch programs through Netflix and Amazon Prime, he says.
Ehlers says they work with local telephone companies in the area to help lower costs to provide the service and reduce interference with each other’s systems.
Dave Daack, Iowa Connect community technology advisor, says Iowa has some very strong rural telephone companies that are active in bringing high-speed internet to rural areas.
“They are extremely pro-active,” he says.
Daack says a recent Iowa Connect survey found rural Iowa internet access is not as far behind urban counties as many might think. Urban counties account for 43 percent of the access to 3 megabits per second (Mbps) internet and rural counties represent 40 percent of the access.
The numbers do widen at faster internet speeds. For 10 Mbps, urban counties are 40 percent of the access and rural counties are 30 percent. At 25 Mbps, 40 percent of the access is in urban counties and only 25 percent is in rural counties, he says.
Mobile broadband is very strong in rural areas, he adds.
Rural access differences mostly come down to local provider differences. There are some challenges for even top providers with such population density and terrain. Iowa Connect works with communities to find solutions.
The Manning tower antenna can provide 25 Mbps over 4 miles away, Ehlers says, but some hills and valleys can affect access for specific locations.
Ehlers says talent is another challenge for smaller internet providers. While larger companies have enough staff to specialize in certain areas, smaller companies have fewer people to cover more job duties.
When it comes to using high-speed internet, Daack says relevance, not cost, is the top reason for lack of usage. That has changed recently. The average person now has three devices that depend on internet access, and Daack thinks that number will continue to grow.
This means rural communities with high-speed internet access and usage now need to continue to plan for the future. Manning did that with a recent upgrade, Ehlers says.
At Puck Custom Enterprises, they sell their manure pumps throughout the country in areas with high hog and dairy production. Blum says Iowa and Minnesota are near the top when it comes to access and stability of the internet signal for their purposes.
In some cases, the company uses a mobile phone connection to upload information from each pump. Blum is also seeing more operations adding routers to spread wireless network access over the entire farm.
Currently, the company’s manure pumps can send information to a website, but they don’t “talk” to each. In the future, he thinks the pumps will communicate with each other — allowing one pump to automatically shut down if there is something wrong with another pump down the line.
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