How Slow Internet Hurts Rural Areas, Starting With Cattle Sales

Apr 8, 2019
Originally published on April 8, 2019 4:43 pm

Crawling internet speeds in rural Kansas make trying to sell cattle online exasperating.

Instead of uploading photos and videos of cattle for sale from home, farmer and cattleman Jay Young drives to his parents’ house or into the town of Tribune in far west Kansas where internet speeds are faster.

Young has a broadband connection and says he’s able to create a cattle listing from home, but the slow internet brings on additional work.

“I just can’t post the videos to that listing,” he said. “So, what I’ll do is I'll email them or I’ll go into town and, and put the photos on there.”

In Kansas, rural internet speeds and spotty mobile phone service generate barriers for business owners like Young, hamstringing their efforts to make a living in an increasingly online world.

A recent study by Amazon and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce analyzed how faster internet and better mobile phone reception could help small rural businesses across the country. In Kansas, slow internet and mobile phone services negatively impacts 66% of rural small businesses.

In April, the Kansas governor’s office released a preliminary broadband map showing the availability of fiber-optic networks, cable and DSL connections in the state. Faster internet speeds are concentrated around the bigger towns and cities, while smaller towns between more populated cities appear to have little or no broadband available.

Sometimes workarounds, like driving to a public Wi-Fi connection, offer an option for taking care of business online. But that can take time and, in some cases, cost business owners money.   

Susan Ness and her husband recently went online in their west-central Kansas town of Jetmore to enter some water usage reports required by the state.

“It took us two nights,” she told the Statewide Broadband Expansion Planning Task Force, “to put in all the information.”

The alternative to filling out the information online, Ness said, was submitting a paper form that costs $250.

As online Kansas cattle sales attract more out-of-state buyers, pokey internet connections at auctions can affect how quickly bids are captured and delay the most updated bidding prices.

Steve Stratford is a cattle breeder at Stratford Angus in Pratt in southwest Kansas. He said that during his company’s annual production sale, when a few hundred cattle are on the block, people can bid in person or online.  

But Stratford said the internet connection has been an issue the last three out of five years that online bidding has been an option.

“The (internet) capability at the sale barn couldn’t handle it,” he said. “The internet provider went down during a sale.”

Depending on the year, Stratford said he sells between 10 and 20 percent of his cattle online.

Jay Young and his father, Jerry Young, own and operate Young Red Angus. They raise cattle and sell around 100 head every year. Young said says most of his advertising is done online.

“I try to market them online to widen and broaden my buyers,” Jay Young said

Young also bids for cattle online, but he has to consider what his bidding options are ahead of time.

“If I know that there’s a sale going on, that I know I want to be able to bid online for, I will not be at my house,” he said. “I will make sure I go somewhere with better connections.”

If Young can’t attend a sale and can’t bid online, he’ll ask someone he knows at the sale to place a bid for him.

Depending on where he is, Young’s mobile phone connectivity can do what his internet connection can’t. But there are days that mobile phone signal is weak.

In Edgerton, a town just out outside of Kansas City, Melanie Gieringer has unreliable mobile phone reception.

Geiringer and her husband, Frank, own Gieringer’s Orchard, and have seasonal hours when visitors can pick and buy berries and peaches. Two years ago, they upgraded their dial-up internet to satellite, and now they have broadband. But Geringer says it could be faster.

“They work for a little bit and then you get dropped calls all the time,” she said.

That spotty mobile service prevented the Gieringers from using their phones as mobile checkout devices. Because of the faster internet connection, they can use iPads for the job.

Although a fiber optic connection eventually became an option for Gieringer, that isn’t the case for Young, who lives in Greeley County. With a little over 1,200, people, it’s the state’s least populated county.

Young said says because he lives about 20 miles outside of the nearest town, faster broadband is not available.

“It's just the power of the signal that they have there at that point north and just can’t continue to go that far out,” he said.

Through our Kansas Matters initiative, one reader asked a question that relates to this story: “What is being done to bring better, faster internet service to rural areas? Even in Douglas County, my internet is extremely slow. I own a business and I'd like to work from home, but I can't do that.”

If you’ve got a question, we might explore it and produce a news story. Go here.

Corinne Boyer is a reporter based in Garden City for High Plains Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and HPPR covering health, education and politics. Follow her @Corinne_Boyer.

 Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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