Trump Signs Executive Order To Expand Rural Broadband Internet Access
President Trump speaks Jan. 8, 2018, at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Andrew Nelles, The Tennessean)
President Donald Trump pitched his efforts to help rural America, promoting his tax overhaul law and economic development plans on a visit to Tennessee on Monday. He’s also reserving a seat at the national college football championship game.
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Monday that intends to help private corporations expand their broadband internet infrastructure to rural regions of the United States, where access has lagged.
Trump signed the order—which will make it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal lands—after delivering a speech to the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention.
The executive order will instruct the General Services Administration (GSA) to make sure it provides the necessary support to the Department of the Interior and Department of Energy as they look at infrastructure assets that can be made available to help improve broadband access in rural areas that are currently underserved.
The order is similar to one that President Barack Obama signed while in office, though the Trump administration claims that the order goes farther in providing support than previous efforts. The order includes a six-month timeline for action.
“We need to get rural America more connected,” a White House official told reporters before Trump’s speech. We need it for our tractors, we need it for our schools, we need it for our home-based businesses.”
Richard T. Cullen, the executive director of Connect Americans Now—an advocacy group formed by Microsoft that intends to help expand broadband internet access—offered support for President Trump’s order.
“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. “Connect Americans Now looks forward to working with President Trump, Congress, and the FCC to reserve spectrum for broadband in TV white spaces and unlock the incredible possibilities that a modern communications infrastructure can offer in rural America.”
Providing broadband access to rural regions has long been a challenge, as there is a high cost associated with building out the necessary infrastructure and a small, low-density population that would be served by the access. It presents a financial challenge for the handful of large corporations that currently provide broadband services in the U.S.
According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, broadband is defined as having download speeds of download speeds of at least 25Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of at least 3Mbps.
According to the findings of a 2016 report published by the FCC , 47.5 million connections in the U.S. fall below the threshold—including 22.4 million people getting download speeds of under 10Mbps and 5.8 million getting just 3Mbps.
While President Trump’s executive order marks the potential to improve access to high-speed internet in rural areas, a budget proposed last year by his administration called for the elimination of 19 independent agencies including the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which has dedicated significant resources to expanding broadband infrastructure in Appalachia.
According to the FCC’s researcher, much of Appalachia—including large chunks of West Virginia, Alabama and South Carolina—are without access to high speed internet.
The impact of delivering those high speed connections to rural communities can be very beneficial. According to ARC’s broadband investment plan released in 2016, 80 new jobs are created for every additional 1,000 broadband users served, and that a gain of 4Mbps of internet speed can increase household income by $2,100 a year.