West Hills College Coalinga goes after grant to provide better access to broadband in rural areas

Jessica Harrington Image
Thursday, September 28, 2023
West Hills College Coalinga goes after grant for better broadband
The program's goal aims to make farming more efficient, but now the college is hoping to tackle a problem that's slowing down technology.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- West Hills College Coalinga's Farm of the Future aims to make farming more efficient, but now the college is hoping to tackle a problem that's slowing down technology - access to broadband in their rural community.

At the college, growing crops like pistachios comes down to a science.

Thermal imaging from drones can help determine crop health.

Director Terry Brase says an automated irrigation system can give growers access to information from their fields, from anywhere in the world.

"Through a smartphone, iPad/tablet, or computer desktop, you can basically monitor and control the irrigation system," Brase said.

But all of the technology becomes useless if it can't connect to a cellular signal to send the information back.

In rural parts of the state, like Coalinga, connectivity is a common problem.

"It's just too inconsistent to be able to use this technology very well." Brase said.

That's why West Hills College Coalinga recently applied for a grant through the United State Department of Agriculture.

The grant aims to bring broadband to unserved and underserved areas.

Brian Boomer, WHCC Director of Grants, says that includes Coalinga.

"We have much lower broadband access levels than the rest of the state and the rest of the country," Boomer said.

Jeffrey Seed, the Associate Vice Chancellor of Information Technology, says the college applied for $1 million in funding.

He says having access to broadband is the link for community members to economic opportunities.

"Being able to successfully enroll in online courses, stream video - but looking at a broader perspective - there's access to health care, there are opportunities with growers to leverage cutting edge technology," Seed said.

If awarded the grant, the money, in part, would help facilitate the formation of a cooperative made up of city managers or designees from municipalities in the service area, as well as representatives from the water district and farm bureau.

Boomer says putting power in the hands of the people helps stop special interest.

If awarded the grant, they have big plans for the future.

The grant from the USDA is expected to be awarded by the end of the year.

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