Slow speeds, bad coverage and expensive service. These are just some of the concerns contained in nearly 300 public comments on Rural Broadband Pilot Program proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a review by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting found.
Rural Americans are on the wrong side of the digital divide, with persistently lower rates of access to broadband service than their metropolitan counterparts. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue discussed the gap during an Axios interview this week, saying, “One of the things we’re really focusing on at USDA for rural development is broadband.”
The president of a rural electric cooperative in central Missouri is President Trump’s choice to head the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service. The agency oversees programs that range from water and sewer facilities to electrical lines and telecommunications.
The 2018 farm bill, while helping “those truly in need” to get enough food, should “support work as the pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being, and economic mobility,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
The Trump administration’s rural prosperity report visualizes broadband as a lever for economic growth, but experts tell Harvest Public Media that “the devil is in the details — or lack thereof.”
Declaring that closing the digital divide is the FCC’s top priority, chairman Ajit Pai proposed an agency order to put $500 million in funding toward high-speed internet in rural America, said ZDNet.
Farmers, especially big operators, may be slightly more wired into the internet than rural Americans overall, and the urban-rural digital divide is narrowing, says a USDA report that provides a comparison with other measurements of the United States online. Based on a biennial survey of farmers, the USDA said 71 percent of U.S. farms have internet access.
In his first trip to Iowa since taking office, President Trump was introduced to high-technology, big-data dependent agriculture and said his $1 trillion infrastructure plan will expand broadband access in rural America. "We will rebuild rural America," said the president, with a prosperous farm sector as the lever for economic growth in rural communities.