TechSpark Fargo: Grand Farm project will create the farm of the future | Microsoft on the Issues

TechSpark Fargo: Grand Farm project will create the farm of the future | Microsoft on the Issues

For generations, farmers throughout North Dakota have traditionally hired seasonal farm hands to help with planting, harvesting and other jobs. Digital technologies and big data are transforming agriculture. Today, those same farmers need to hire technologists, programmers and data scientists to improve productivity to meet food demands, boost yields to increase profitability, environmentally sustain the land and improve safety. But, according to the consulting firm Accenture, less than 20 percent of acreage today is managed using digital ag tech.

Grand Farm
In West Coast tech corridors 1,800 miles away, technologists, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists are coming up with their next big ag tech ideas. But too often those ideas are disconnected from the farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses the technology is meant to help. We believe meaningful innovation will happen when farmers are a part of the solution.

Drone investment
Our TechSpark signature investment in the Grand Farm will leverage projects like a TechSpark North Dakota investment we made earlier this year in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), which most people know as drones, to provide access to low-cost aerial data imagery. Gov. Burgum, local businesses, universities and economic development organizations in North Dakota have an ambition to be the epicenter of U.S. drone innovation and entrepreneurism.We also plan on leveraging Microsoft technologies like those used in FarmBeats at the Grand Farm. FarmBeats uses AI in data-driven farming to augment human knowledge and help increase farm productivity and decrease costs. It uses inexpensive IoT sensors, drones, low-cost broadband connectivity using TV white spaces, and vision and machine learning algorithms to help maximize the use of agricultural land. FarmBeats gives farmers precise information about soil temperatures and soil moisture so they know exactly when the best times are for planting, watering and fertilizing, as well as the precise amount of water and fertilizer needed.

Rural broadband
Getting data from the farm is extremely difficult given there is often no broadband available on many farms. In the U.S., more than 19 million people living in rural America don’t have access to broadband internet. The farm of the future requires rural broadband.

Digital skills and employability
Ag tech innovation and broadband-connected farms require the right talent – people who know how to create and use new ag technology.

This starts with students in the region, who need the opportunity to study computer science in high school if they are to succeed in the digital era. But only 45 percent of U.S. high schools teach computer science, according to the nonprofit Code.org. Microsoft’s Technology and Literacy in Schools (TEALS) program is helping schools across the nation and British Columbia build their own computer science programs through partnerships between teachers and volunteers from the technology sector.

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Working together to bring broadband to rural Veterans|Microsoft on the Issues

Working together to bring broadband to rural Veterans|Microsoft on the Issues

This isn’t some one-off PR move by Microsoft, they have a real commitment to Veterans companywide. It didn’t start with Satya Nadella, but he has enhanced it during his tenure. Even though I was not a veteran, most of my family was, so I have an appreciation for those that chose to serve.

 

Our nation’s Veterans have contributed to our country in so many ways, in countless locations around the globe. When they return home, many Veterans who reside in rural areas are not able to access broadband internet which is critical to using telehealth services, gaining educational opportunities, and growing a small business or running a family farm.

 

There are 2.7 million Veterans enrolled in Veterans Affairs (VA) who are living in rural communities, 42% of them do not have internet access at home which could support their use of VA telehealth services, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’, Veterans Health Administration’s Office of Rural Health. These rural Veterans live in areas where access to fast, reliable internet service may be limited or inaccessible and are facing higher rates of unemployment, longer drives to reach the nearest clinics and medical centers, and lower levels of educational attainment compared to their urban counterparts. Connectivity has the potential to improve this reality — with broadband, they can access telehealth services offered by the VA, identify and compete for well-paying jobs, improve and grow their own businesses, and take advantage of online education classes.

 

Microsoft and VA have been strategic partners, working together to improve the lives of Veterans, for more than 20 years. Today, I’m excited to share that Microsoft will begin expanding that work by helping VA to help bring connectivity to many Veterans living in rural towns and communities. Microsoft and its partners will be working with VA to provide capital, technology expertise, and training resources to bring broadband access to people in these underserved communities. Our hope is that this effort will unlock new economic opportunities, while also enhancing quality of life.

 

Through the partnership, we’ll help VA identify communities with Veterans in need and work with our internet service provider (ISP) partners across the nation to bring broadband services to those regions. Following our Airband Initiative model, we’ll also provide the Veterans in these newly connected communities with digital skills training so they can take advantage of the tools and services connectivity enables, including critical telehealth services provided by VA.

 

In the past 22 months, through the Microsoft Airband Initiative, we have seen firsthand just how many communities lack connectivity at broadband speeds and how this can hinder growth and new opportunities. We’ve also seen that partnering with ISPs to serve those most in need is an effective strategy to make progress quickly on this important issue. Our work with VA builds on those lessons and approach, which has resulted in partnerships that will bring connectivity to 1 million unserved rural residents in 16 states to date, with a plan to reach 3 million by 2022…

 

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The rural broadband divide: An urgent national problem that we can solve | Microsoft On The Issues

airband-hero

Photo Credit: Microsoft

My favorite US-based tech company, behind Canada’s Corel and Norway & Iceland’s Vivaldi, is at it again. Just because you live in the hinterlands should not determine that you are a second-class digital citizen. Or for that matter, certain urban neighborhoods not unlike where I live in Charlotte and similar cities. This has to be done by large tech companies not tied to mobile bandwidth due to its data cap limitations via its business model. Below comes from Microsoft President Brad Smith in a blog post:

Every day the world is becoming more digital. Cloud computing combined with new productivity, communication and intelligent tools and services enable us to do more, do it more quickly and in ways that were simply unimaginable a generation ago. But participating in this new era requires a high-speed broadband connection to the internet. While it’s a service that is as critical as a phone or electricity, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) broadband is unavailable to roughly 25 million Americans, more than 19 million of which live in rural communities. That’s roughly the population of New York state.

 

The broadband gap is a solvable issue

 

At Microsoft we believe this is an urgent national problem that can and must be solved. In the summer of 2017 we called for a national effort and set an ambitious goal — to eliminate the country’s rural broadband gap by July 4, 2022. Closing the broadband gap will require a focused and comprehensive solution that combines private sector capital investment in innovative technologies with targeted financial and regulatory support from the public sector.

 

For the past 18 months we’ve contributed to this effort through our Microsoft Airband Initiative, a five-year commitment to bring broadband access to 2 million unserved Americans living in rural communities. During this time, we’ve accomplished and learned a lot.

 

Raising our ambition as a company, and a country

 

While we’ve made significant progress, we know there’s a lot more to do to bring broadband to every American. That’s why we are raising our ambition as a company and encourage the federal, state and local governments to do the same.

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