White House Makes Rural Broadband a Priority

The Department of Agriculture has officially dubbed "Reliable and affordable high-speed connectivity" as a key to helping rural America.

It is already an avowed priority of President Trump's pick for FCC chairman, Ajit Pai.

The Administration's official imprimatur came in the "Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity," which was officially presented to the President Monday (Jan. 8) by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue at the American Farm Bureau Federation gathering in Nashville, where both were speaking.

"Connect Americans Now Executive Director Richard Cullen applauded the report. "“No one has more grit and determination than American farmers, and we are excited to hear that President Trump is focused on unleashing that productivity by bringing broadband service into more rural communities,” he said, using the opportunity to put in a plug for using the so-called TV "white spaces."

“23.4 million rural Americans still don’t have any access to broadband, which not only limits the use of precision agriculture but holds back students, freezes growth opportunities for small businesses, and eliminates potentially life-saving options for telemedicine," Cullen said. "We can close the digital divide in five years with the right combination of fiber-based, satellite, and wireless technologies, including TV white spaces."

Broadband internet access is a vital concern, the President said in his speech to the group. He said he would expand broadband access to rural America through two presidential orders he was signing Monday to provide better, faster broadband access. The President also praised Tennesseee House member Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) for her leadership role in getting broadband to rural America (she chairs the House Communications Subcommittee).

Those presidential efforts include streamlining and expediting broadband deployment and supporting tower facilities in rural America, something the FCC is also doing on a parallel track. "Those towers are going to go up and you are going to have great, great broadband, the President said.

Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Ridley told reporters on Air Force one that the report's first order of business is "better" internet coverage.

"ACA applauds the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which President Donald J. Trump established earlier this year, for issuing a report and a lengthy series of recommendations on ways to improve the lives of Americans living in rural areas. Almost all of ACA's 700 broadband provider members operate in rural areas, and they are very aware of the value that e-Connectivity brings to rural residents, businesses, and communities," said American Cable Association President Matt Polka. "By focusing on additional measures that the government can take to ensure consumers in rural areas have robust broadband service, President Trump's Task Force has performed a great service. ACA and its members look forward to working with the Trump Administration as it continues its work to ensure rural communities thrive, especially by having access to high performance broadband service."

“I commend the Administration for its work to streamline permitting processes, and especially for allowing infrastructure builds on federal facilities," said competitive Carriers Association President Steven K. Berry. "There is no question federal lands are an important part of our country and providing seamless coverage in these areas is just as important as any other location, especially during times of emergencies. Encouraging investment in broadband infrastructure will strengthen the U.S.’s position as a global broadband leader, will help boost the economy and, most importantly, will help close the digital divide so that no American will be left behind in a connected world. I thank the Task Force for its work on the Report and look forward to our continued work with the Administration on this critical issue.”   

Also asked about the prospect of Oprah running for President in 2020, Ridley said: "[R]egardless of who's on the ballot, regardless who decides to run against this President, they are going to have to face a President who has record-setting achievements in record-setting time, whether it's an economy that is booming, job creation, historic tax cuts and tax reform when that hadn't been touched in 30 years, an increase in wages, an absolute decimation of ISIS in Iraq and Syria."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.