Before a crowd of American Farm Bureau Federation members, President Trump signed two executive orders related to rural broadband. As with much of Trump’s political achievements, this made for good theatre but won’t close the rural digital divide.
The first executive order allows private companies to access infrastructure such as radio towers on government-owned land. The second order reduces the paperwork required to get permission to build broadband in rural areas.
“His executive orders on rural broadband are so small it would be like claiming to solve the health care problem in America by changing policies around how people can make appointments,” Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance told Motherboard.
There’s strong bipartisan support for closing the digital divide, but we need more than superficial action from the Trump Administration to get high-speed broadband to the 39 percent of rural Americans that have no Internet access.
We need dedicated funding in any infrastructure bill for broadband deployment to unserved areas. But according to Politico, the most recent iteration of Trump’s infrastructure plan doesn’t guarantee funding for broadband deployment.
And Trump’s FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is poised to “define away” the broadband problem by lowering the definition of broadband from today’s 25/1 Mbps (downstream/upstream) to 10/1 Mbps. And Chairman Pai wants to count cell phone data coverage as high-speed broadband, even though wireless broadband is notorious for dropped calls and dead spots. Chairman Pai is also attacking the Lifeline program, which provides a modest subsidy to help poor families afford modern communications services, including broadband.
If President Trump cares about broadband access, why is his FCC Chairman working so hard to maintain the digital divide?
Broadband is a necessity, and this administration isn’t doing enough to achieve universal access.
President Trump signs executive order on rural broadband Internet (USA Today, Jan. 8, 2018)
Trump Signs Two Rural Broadband Executive Orders That Will Barely Move the Needle (Motherboard, Jan. 10, 2018)
Democrats cool to Trump’s infrastructure pitch (Politico, Dec. 14, 2017)