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Updated: May 27, 2019 Commentary

Why a farmer in rural Penobscot County needs reliable broadband

Dan Kaplan
Dan Kaplan

As a farmer in rural Maine, I’ve noticed that there’s an issue nearly all politicians agree on: the need to get faster, more reliable internet for us country folk (aka rural broadband).

U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Gov. Janet Mills and state Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, are among the elected leaders who have put out position papers and press releases on the issue. But for years I for one was among the “have nots” when it came to decent internet. I don’t doubt their sincerity in backing expanding high speed access. But speeds city folks take for granted can be a dream for us farmers.

Every day that goes by without high-speed access is painful, frustrating and results in lost sales.

I’m a new farmer, but I’m not a young farmer. After a 40-year career in media and marketing, I decided to pursue a lifelong dream a few years ago. I bought a 300-acre farm in Charleston, Penobscot County, and started raising grass-fed beef cattle.

I love it. It’s different and more satisfying than anything I’ve ever done. But the lack of fast, reliable Internet access has been a real drag on our business. My plan had always been to use the internet to market our beef to customers throughout the Northeast. With dry ice, we’re able to ship our beef efficiently and at a reasonable cost to folks as far away as Ohio and Virginia. Our customers love the idea of buying good, healthy beef right from the farmer.

I’m pretty resourceful and I’ve known broadband access was critical to our success. So we tried DSL for a few months, only to find the 10 miles from the main switch meant speeds just slightly better than dial-up. We tried satellite, which again was super slow; the low data cap also made it very expensive. We tried using cell phones as hot spots, which occasionally worked, but we were always losing the connection just at the worst possible moment.

Try loading new photos of rib-eye steaks onto the website with those connections. The worst was printing our weekly UPS labels, inputting all the info, only to have the connection go down and lose all of our work — all with the UPS driver likely to show up at any minute.

Two years ago, I got excited when I heard fiber optic cable was being installed about a mile and half from us. I contacted the service provider, but was told it was unlikely they’d run the cable down my mile-long dirt road with only me and my two neighbors as potential customers. I asked if they could run service just to my house, but the estimate of $18,000 wasn’t feasible.

Last summer, another solution appeared. The broadband company that owns the fiber optic told me they were installing an antenna on Charleston Hill, about six miles from our farm. If we could get line-of-site to the antenna, they could install a receiver antenna on our farm and make that work.

Fast forward to last Oct. 24, the day Premium Broadband installed an antenna about 60 feet up in a pine tree in our front yard. It was a day I’ll always remember — we finally got reliable broadband.

And you know what? I don’t think it was coincidence, but our online sales in the first two months of 2019 are equal to the first six months of 2018. We’re doing more online, shipping more beef, and I think the difference was that we finally got access.

I’m sharing this to say the need for rural broadband is not theoretical. It’s real. You can’t compete in 2019 without it.

You need fast, reliable internet — even when what you’re selling is grass-fed rib eye steaks.

Dan Kaplan, who owns Heartstone Farm in Charleston, raised 100% grass-fed beef cattle on 300 acres. Before becoming a farmer, Kaplan had a 40-year career as a media and technology entrepreneur in southern New England. He can be reached at DAN@HEARTSTONEFARM.ME


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