Today, Mike Romano and I joined our rural partners from what has become the Rebuild Rural Coalition for a visit to the White House to meet with the special assistant to the president for Infrastructure as well as the special assistant to the president for Agriculture. Leadership from the Farm Credit Council, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Water Association, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives all sat around the table with us, along with leadership from Capitol Hill and USDA for a small focused meeting on rural infrastracture.
It is evident that a comprehensive approach to infrastructure is very top of mind for the Trump administration and for the president himself and we were honored to share our thoughts on how broadband can play a key role in ensuring the economic future of rural America – and how rural broadband also has a powerfully strong economic impact on the American economy and jobs. Each of us had a few minutes to share our perspective and while I am a fast talker – I talked as quickly as I could to share some key points in terms of sharing insights on leveraging existing broadband programs that help with the business case for investment. Putting supplemental resources into high-cost USF will bring more bang for the buck immediately, rules are clear, targeting is good and accountability is high. In addition, permitting and siting – federal lands, state highways, and railroads all have an impact. Efforts like Mobile NOW, the FAST Act, Pai’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee will all be helpful steps that could be part of a comprehensive package in addition to more collaboration among jurisdictions and standardization among federal agencies. We also shared that tax incentives are useful on the margins but won’t move the needle much for deeply rural infrastructure investment. If it’s a money losing proposition to start – getting tax relief on income you’re not making is not a big driver! It’s even less of an incentive for a cooperative.
The conversation was constructive and fast-paced and I think will be the start of hopefully more constructive discussions in the weeks to come.