A task force created by President Trump has recognized the importance of closing the digital divide by emphasizing bringing broadband internet service to rural parts of the country.
“The success of rural America is critical to the well-being of our entire nation. This task force report rightfully identifies a number of key areas that are essential to economic growth, and nearly all depend on expanded access to high-speed internet,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson.
“For decades, electric cooperatives have enhanced the quality of life throughout rural America. Now, co-ops across the nation are helping reinvigorate rural economies by bringing broadband access to homes and businesses.”
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue unveiled the report Jan. 8 at the American Farm Bureau’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
“Rural electric cooperatives have begun deploying fiber optic networks throughout their service areas to meet the current, growing and future demand for smart grid services, such as demand-side management, distributed generation and renewable integration, and smart home technologies, as well as increased grid security,” the task force report states.
“The ability to dynamically manage energy use is critical to ensuring network reliability, enhancing system-wide efficiency and keeping electric rates affordable for rural residents and businesses. The high-speed networks, connecting electric system infrastructure and even direct connections to customer locations, can also provide a platform and catalyst for fiber to rural homes.”
Trump tapped Perdue last spring to chair the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, comprising 22 federal agencies as well as local leaders. The group also recommended expediting infrastructure modernization for rural utilities in addition to enhanced coordination between the USDA and the Federal Communications Commission to help bring broadband to rural communities.
“Last April, I commissioned a task force to meet with farmers and local communities and find the greatest barriers to rural prosperity,” Trump said at the AFB meeting. “The task force heard from farmers that broadband internet access is an issue of vital concern to their communities and businesses.”
Trump signed two executive orders to facilitate rural broadband. One requires the Department of the Interior to ease access to towers and other infrastructure the department manages. The second calls for departments and agencies to reduce barriers to capital investment and government resources to enable rural broadband projects.
“I appreciate the president starting this important conversation, and I commend Secretary Perdue for his leadership of the task force,” Matheson said. “America’s electric cooperatives look forward to continuing the conversation and working together on technology and funding solutions that will enrich the lives of rural American families and businesses.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.