The Bipartisan (a nice word in DC these days) Agriculture and Rural America Task Force in the United States House of Representatives had their first briefing of 2018 today and I was honored to be one of their participants to share some insights into rural broadband challenges and what Congress can do to move the ball forward. The task force is comprised of members of Congress who do not serve on the House Agriculture Committee but still want to stay engaged with issues relating to Ag and the rural way of life.
It was nice to see a full room as I shared some insights in the rural-rural divide….the investments that are being made by locally owned and controlled RLEC broadband providers and the areas of our country where larger carriers are not making the investments that their communities need and crave. The importance of Universal Service and how infusion into the USF of any federal initiative dollars would quickly lead to investments was shared as well as the important role that RUS plays and how policymakers need to ensure that critical federal lending program not find itself in a position of lending against existing federal support – USF or existing RUS borrowers. I had the first crack at the discussion but was joined by Kirk Johnson from NRECA, who shared the perspective of electric cooperatives across the country and their interest in developing a broadband line of service, particularly when their communities were unserved. We both shared the importance of partnerships and synergies where possible, but I might have been a little bit more vocal about cautioning Congress on the wisest use of federal resources and that would not be rural utilities overbuilding rural utilities.
The discussion was hosted by Congressmen Kildee from Michigan and Hudson from North Carolina and I appreciated both of these leaders hanging by the doorway to listen in on the words I had to share with the staffers present.