I had a wonderful opportunity to travel to Nashville today to join with a number of our Rebuild Rural coalition allies in hearing directly from the President about his objectives for rural prosperity in the wake of a report presented to him by a task force chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. We are deeply grateful to the President, the Secretary, and the many leaders and staffers throughout this administration for their commitment to rural America, and the recommendations captured in the report provide a thoughtful policy roadmap for avenues to explore and potential actions to come. Even after months of a constructive and engaged working relationship with all of the administration folks involved, I might have been the most excited person in the ballroom when broadband access and how key it is to the future of rural America were some of the first words out of the President’s mouth from the podium!
Understandably given our members’ focus on getting and keeping rural communities connected, we at NTCA leapt at first to the prominence of “e-connectivity” and its foundational importance for other initiatives identified in the report. It was also terrific to see live and in-person the President sign an executive order and presidential memorandum aimed at speeding deployment of broadband networks in rural areas. While I will be anxious to actually review the text more carefully to see the scope they cover, to the extent that the orders appear to offer greater and more streamlined opportunities for private sector communications providers to access federal lands – a real challenge in rural areas particularly – for deployment of wired and wireless facilities alike, they are much welcomed. Of course, we see them as helpful first steps in a broader set of policy initiatives needed to tackle rural broadband issues and we believe the rural prosperity task force report makes clear that that is precisely what they represent – immediate steps in a more comprehensive effort. Even one of the leading rural White House NEC staffers, pulled me aside after the President spoke to share that our work together has just begun. Bring it on!
As for the report recommendations themselves, we believe there is real and great promise within them. Better coordination of federal programs aimed at overcoming rural broadband challenges is something we’ve long called for and making sure – in particular and most notably – that the federal universal service program is right-sized to promote private investment and complement federal loan and grant programs is essential to promote and sustain investments. Pairing such fundamental funding efforts with initiatives aimed at streamlining deployment regulations and the other steps outlined in the report could help make real, lasting progress toward overcoming rural connectivity challenges.
But the remarks today and the report itself underscore the broader objectives of advancing rural economic development and improving the quality of life for millions of Americans who live in rural areas. There’s also great focus on how taking the steps outlined in the report – in the form of even more efficient food production, a well-trained rural workforce, and technological innovation in rural areas – will yield substantial payback across the United States, in rural and urban areas alike.
Our statement applauding the significance of rural connectivity specifically in today’s announcements can be found here. But as an even broader matter, NTCA is excited to help carry forward the vision articulated in the remarks of the President and Secretary Perdue, and we’re eager to work with policymakers and our Rebuild Rural colleagues to develop further and then deliver on the specific recommendations outlined in the report in order to promote and sustain rural economic development and promote an even better quality of life in rural America.
Sitting in a ballroom with thousands of farmers and ranchers from across the country (and running in to a few NTCA members from Tennessee who are not only involved in their own agricultural interests but sit on NTCA member boards as well – small world!), interfacing with my fellow Rebuild Rural coalition leaders and mingling with key staff members of the Administration (and running into leading rural broadband advocate Senator Moran from Kansas in the airport) made the day even more poignant as we begin this effort to really give NTCA members the tools they need to help the communities they serve.