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Editor’s Moment: Fiber’s Time to Work

Unless you live somewhere close to Huntsville, odds are you probably don’t know Bill Bridgeforth, one of the owners of Bridgeforth Farms ( in Tanner, Alabama. The Bridgeforth family has been tending the land since 1877, five generations of Black farmers working over 10,000 acres that today span four counties. Bridgeport Farms grows six different crops, including cotton that goes to clothing manufacturers such as Victoria’s Secret. 

John Deere works with Bridgeforth Farms to track its cotton growing and harvest using the U.S Cotton Trust Protocol, an organization that tracks the crop all the way from the field to mill, making sure that members can prove, measure, and verify that they are buying sustainably produced (cotton) fiber that is free of environmental and social risk. Six key metrics are tracked, including water use, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions, soil conservation, soil carbon, and land use. 

A combine picks the cotton and feeds the fluffy loose white balls into another John Deere machine that compresses them into a tightly pressed bail for shipping, incorporating an RFID chip into the outside wrapping material. The chip enables the cotton bail to be tracked from farm to cotton gin, carrying along information about the characteristics of the cotton and how it was grown using sustainable methods. 

Big machinery, sustainable practices, family farms, advanced tech, it’s a feel-good story John Deere highlighted in its vast CES 2024 booth next to its autonomous machinery that is able to precision plow furrows with millimeter accuracy and geolocate each planted seed for tending and harvest. 

Until I asked about fiber broadband.

“It’s very important,” Bridgeforth said. “We don’t have internet on our phone. We use [satellite] and it’s not dependable. The state broadband commissioner has promised we are at the top of the list. We hope to have it sometime this year, but we’ve heard it before. We’ll just keep reaching out to him and hopefully one day they’ll bring us some fiber optic cable.”

The fiber industry has a lot of work over the next five years and challenges that need addressing. In the excitement of $42 billion of BEAD funding, it’s easy to take fiber deployment as a done deal, a given until you hear Mr. Bridgeforth’s story. 

Communication and education will be vital in the months to come. CTA’s annual “Tech Trends” presentation at the beginning of CES 2024 proclaimed 92% of U.S. citizens are connected to the internet today, but their numbers didn’t talk about the quality of that broadband. There’s no way of telling which part or how much of that 92% is barely usable. Certainly Mr. Bridgeforth has broadband, but it’s not reliable or fast enough for his current needs, much less future requirements to support 21st Century precision agriculture. 

Lack of adequate broadband isn’t limited to family farms in rural zip codes. The cities of Ft. Worth, Texas, and Newark, New Jersey, have had middle mile struggles that handicap their citizens gaining access to quality broadband and impinge upon healthy economic development. It should be no secret that more middle mile money is needed, based on the $7.5 billion in applications to NTIA’s Middle Mile Grant Program last year. Only $1 billion in award money was available, which should be suggestive of the work that remains, especially when you consider that the average grant match was a whopping 40%.

It’s going to be a busy year, but let’s not only focus on what we can do today, but what we need to do today to prepare for the most optimum tomorrow.


Doug Mohney