President Donald Trump signed two president orders on Monday to streamline and expedite rural broadband deployment. In a speech before the American Farm Bureau annual convention in Nashville, the president said a task force aimed at improving rural life “heard from farmers that broadband internet is an issue.” The orders, he said, “will provide broader, faster, better internet coverage.”
The orders, Trump said, will support broadband tower facilities in rural America. “Those towers are going to go up and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” he said to the assembled crowd.
He was referring to the findings of the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, which counts cabinet members and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai among members. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday presented the findings in a 44 page report. In addition to expediting approval and review timelines for broadband infrastructure buildout, it recommends the government assess existing federal grants and subsidy programs devoted to or used for deploying e-connectivity.
Under the title “Incentivize Private Capital Investment,” the task force recommends the government: “Encourage free-market policies, laws, and structures at federal, state, tribal, and local government levels to create an environment conducive to investment, including public-private partnerships. Such partnerships can bring innovation and investment of sustainable capital to bridge the e-connectivity gap in the fastest and most affordable manner.”
Some steps can be taken soon, according to Grace Koh of the National Economic Council, such as streamlined rules for installing antennas on federal towers and buildings. Also, “We will seek to use ‘dark fiber’ that the agencies have deployed in order to allow rural providers to interconnect and provide service to communities that have not had access to broadband before,” Koh told Successful Farming before the speech. “Dark fiber” is fiber optic cable that has been installed but not in use yet and can be shared among different companies.
“We anticipate being able to make towers and other infrastructure from the Department of Interior available for co-location. This should cut down on tower construction costs and allow for providers to get their plant and equipment out much more quickly,” said Koh.
NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield stated the task force report “emphasizes the foundational significance of connectivity in improving the economic well-being and quality of life in rural America. NTCA is eager to assist in pursuing the report recommendations and achieving the vision of universal service articulated—to ensure the adoption of policies that will promote and sustain robust and affordable rural broadband access for the benefit of consumers, businesses, and communities throughout America, rural and urban alike.”
This “broadband first” approach is an important step toward our shared goal of serving the connectivity needs of America’s rural communities,” according to USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter. “Going forward, America’s broadband providers will continue working with the Administration and Congress to ensure sufficient direct federal funds are set aside to help build and upgrade network infrastructure, to dismantle and streamline burdensome and costly regulations, and to level the regulatory playing field across the entire internet ecosystem, bringing long-needed parity to our marketplace and clarity to the consumers we serve.”
The Rural Prosperity Task Force was established by executive order in April 2017 to identify legislative, regulatory, and policy changes to promote the overall quality of life in rural America. The task force organized recommendations into five categories, anchored by the importance of having access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet. The full Rural Prosperity Task Force report is available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture here.
By Leslie Stimson, Washington Bureau Chief, Inside Towers
January 9, 2018