The Trump administration’s task force on rural prosperity is calling for expanding broadband essential to improving rural America by removing regulatory barriers and providing new incentives for private investment.
The 23-page report, which President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue will highlight in speeches to the American Farm Bureau Federation in Nashville, will help set the stage for the administration’s coming infrastructure initiative.
The report, which also makes recommendations for improving the quality of rural life, expanding the rural workforce and encouraging technological innovation, calls for establishment of a permanent commission to make sure that its recommendations are carried out. The report also recommends appointing an advisory council for the commission to ensure “on-going, robust stakeholder participation.”
A managing director would oversee the work of the commission and advisory council, develop and execute inter-agency agreements and create implementation metrics to measure the success of the commission.
“Unleashing the potential and ingenuity of rural communities is an integral part of making America great again,” the report says.
The report makes a case for the importance of high-speed Internet service - even tying broadband to the ability of farmers to meet global food needs, but the task force stopped short of recommending an infusion of new federal funding. The report, however, says there are a number of steps that can be taken to promote development, including the use of transmitting towers on federal lands.
The task force calls for encouraging “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.”
The report also recommends the White House implement an inter-agency strategy based on the best practices for expanding broadband service.
“E-connectivity for rural America is essential for ensuring America’s economic competitiveness and enabling all Americans to be plugged in to a world of opportunity,” the report says.
Grace Kho, the White House’s special assistant for technology, telecommunications and cybersecurity, cautioned that expanding rural broadband will take time.
“This is not going to be a sprint. This will be a long time of -- a long process of figuring out how to exactly move the federal government in the right place in order to be able to get broadband to rural Americans.”
Although USDA led the rural task force, carrying out the recommendations will require coordination with many other agencies, said USDA adviser Rebekah Adcock.
Much of the recommendations aren't "in our jurisdiction, and that's good," she said. "What that means is that the federal family is going to be expected and asked to act together in a coordinated fashion to figure out how we accomplish these actions. And because the report was endorsed by the entirety of the folks that were listed on the executive order, that demonstrates the commitment of the entirety of the federal family to make things better and to do what we can to get our own house in order to empower rural America."
To improve the rural workforce, the report says a “robust” federal effort is needed to improve the rural workforce to “study current gaps and job demands in all sectors to better specialize our educational and training efforts.”
The workforce proposals include an acknowledgment of farmers’ concerns about a shortage of workers.
The report notes that the administration is looking into possible changes to the H-2A visa program to make it easier for farmers to import workers.
“As labor instability grows, seasonal farmers are increasingly turning to H-2A visa program to ensure that their foreign-born workers are working legally in the United States,” the report says.
The recommendations on technology recommend among other things that the federal government get involved in planning for the use of big data in agriculture. The National Science and Technology Council's subcommittee on food and agriculture "should develop best practices for big data management in agricultural applications," the report says.
The report also pushes the government to promote public acceptance of biotechnology and to update the regulatory process for genetically engineered products.