As we look to the future of agriculture, manufacturing, small business, education, and healthcare, we see a common thread: every advance requires robust Internet connectivity. As President Donald J. Trump said during his State of the Union address, he is eager “to deliver new and important infrastructure investment, including investments in the cutting-edge industries of the future.” Those industries will rely heavily on widespread, secure, and reliable connectivity.
However, for millions who live in rural America, the promise of high-speed broadband networks are still just that—a promise yet to be realized. Nearly 39 percent of rural Americans lack sufficient broadband access, creating a digital divide that is leaving too many behind. From homework to healthcare, high-speed internet is a modern-day essential at home. Also, the Nation and the world rely on the commodities and goods that rural America produces – from its croplands, ranchlands, forests, factories, and mines. The competitiveness of America will increasingly require Internet connectivity for these vital industries to be able to use all possible 21st Century technological advances. Unfortunately, the wide-open spaces and unique geography that make rural America great also make it significantly harder and more expensive to build secure broadband networks.
Last year, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sent the President the 2018 Rural Prosperity Task Force Report, which highlights the importance of connectivity to achieving prosperity and recommended executive leadership to expand access. At the American Farm Bureau’s 2018 annual meeting, President Trump pledged to bring broadband Internet to rural Americans. Over the last year, the White House, Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Department of Commerce have led the American Broadband Initiative, a multi-agency effort focused on removing barriers to broadband deployment and making it easier for broadband providers to build out to every corner of the country. This effort is based on a simple principle: nothing drives innovation more effectively than unleashing the free market economy. By removing burdensome regulations and fostering increased opportunities for successful private-sector investments to deploy secure networks that advance America’s economic and national security, we are doing just that. The American Broadband Initiative report released yesterday focuses on three primary areas of agency initiatives:
- Streamlining Federal Permitting Processes: Agencies will make changes to allow easier and faster construction of network infrastructure. By reducing permit delays, minimizing paperwork, and making clear who the right federal point of contact is, we allow broadband providers to spend less time and money on bureaucracy and focus on building networks. To reform the current system, the General Services Administration will revise the current process for permitting requests.
- Leveraging Federal Assets: The Federal Government owns, manages, or operates a great deal of land and infrastructure across America, including towers and other structures. Allowing private sector operators to access these assets easily and at a reasonable cost will encourage additional deployment of network infrastructure. Consistent with this goal, the Department of the Interior has created a map of over 7,000 tower locations that will be available to service providers as they look to expand their networks.
- Maximizing the Impact of Federal Funding: While the private market is best at building and deploying broadband networks, financial partnerships and assistance from the Federal Government can help close the internet connectivity gap in rural America. By coordinating the existing funding opportunities available to providers, we will better target areas of true need and make more efficient and effective use of taxpayer dollars. USDA has committed to this goal as they distribute $600 million in new Federal investment in a rural broadband pilot program, prioritizing projects that increase productivity and improve rural quality of life. The Department of Commerce is working to improve the quality of broadband maps to allow for better targeting of federal funds.
From the first days of his Administration, President Trump has made it a priority to invest in our Nation’s infrastructure and bring prosperity to rural America once again. Agencies are removing regulatory red tape and identifying opportunities for coordination, making it easier for the private sector to invest and build safe and reliable broadband networks to the areas that need access most. Yesterday’s report is another step towards ensuring that all Americans have access to the vital resources they need to participate fully in the opportunities of the future. The American Broadband Initiative report serves as a roadmap for Federal departments to streamline permitting, leverage more Government assets, and maximize the effectiveness of taxpayer funds to bring high-speed broadband networks to rural America.
Chris Liddell is the deputy chief of staff for policy coordination at the White House. Michael Kratsios is the deputy chief technology officer at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.