Trump says broadband plan will allow rural farmers to compete on a level playing field

President Donald Trump says that his plan to enhance broadband availability in rural areas will enable local farmers to more effectively take part in the internet-driven economy.

Speaking during this afternoon’s 99th annual American Farm Bureau Federation convention in Nashville, Tennessee, Trump told attendees expanding broadband is a key promise to help farming communities find the overcome rural economic barriers.

“Today, the task force is releasing its final report and I am taking action,” President Trump said. “The task force heard from farmers that broadband internet access is an issue of vital concern to their communities and businesses.”

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Specifically, Trump will sign two presidential orders he said will enhance rural broadband coverage and availability.

The first of these two orders instructs the Department of Interior to dedicate a portion of its assets for rural broadband installation. The second order will streamline the network installation process by requiring agencies to use standardized forms and contracts for installing antennas on federal buildings.

“I will take the first step to expand access to broadband internet in rural America so you can compete on a level playing field, which you were not able to do,” Trump said.

Expanding rural broadband is one of the Agriculture and Rural Prosperity Task Force’s Rural Prosperity Task Force Report recommendations. The task force highlighted how broadband availability results in increased productivity for farms, factories, forests, mining, and small businesses.

As the first call to action, the task force said that “reliable and affordable high-speed internet e-connectivity will transform rural America as a key catalyst for prosperity.”

Trump also praised the work of Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) for getting behind rural broadband efforts.

“I also want to thank Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn for her leadership on broadband,” Trump said. “She’s very strong on getting broadband to rural America.”

In February 2016, Blackburn joined other lawmakers to take part in the Rural Broadband Caucus. The focus of the Rural Broadband Caucus is a bipartisan effort by members of Congress who have rural, underserved communities to facilitate discussion and develop policy solutions to the digital divide that exists in rural America.

Trump’s actions were met with praise by Incompas and USTelecom—two organizations that often offer differing opinions on issues like competition since they represent two different sides of the telecom industry.

“We commend President Donald Trump for his action today to spur rural broadband deployment, stressing the need to bring faster networks that give our businesses the chance to compete,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, in a statement. “If more business competition is the goal, then it makes sense that competition policy that helps new broadband providers is where we start.”

Pickering said that to further expand rural broadband availability, there needs to be more streamlined permitting to get affordable access to key infrastructure such as utility poles that string fiber to carry services to consumers and businesses.  

“Deployment in rural America, both wired and wireless, will only happen if we eliminate monopoly, roadblocks on poles, buildings and infrastructure at the state and local level that have prevented new network builders from delivering faster, more affordable high-speed internet to American consumers,” Pickering said. “It is unacceptable that over two-thirds of Americans only have one or two choices for broadband providers.”

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom, expressed a similar sentiment.

“The focus on broadband deployment in the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity reflects a national imperative to ensure every American can be connected, no matter where we live,” Spalter said. “This 'broadband first' approach is an important step toward our shared goal of serving the connectivity needs of America’s rural communities. 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.”