The Trump administration is touting its support for better rural broadband connectivity, but is sending mixed signals as to how it thinks that infrastructure is going to be funded.
Earlier this week, President Trump told the American Farm Bureau Federation that broadband -- he called it "e-connectivity" -- is essential to the economic development of rural areas, and even presented two signed executive orders on that topic. His comments and the orders followed the narrative of this report
from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, carried out by the US Department of Agriculture in 2017.
That would seem to be good news for rural areas except that nothing Trump said before the farmers or in his executive orders promised federal funding of such infrastructure -- something previously done through the Universal Service Fund and Connect America. Further complicating the issue was that Trump's Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, Ajit Pai, has been floating the idea that the definition of broadband could be reduced to 10 Meg/1 Meg wireless service, in which case the FCC could then magically declare wide swaths of rural America to be broadband enabled. (See FCC to Shrink Digital Divide – Without Expanding Broadband)
But wait -- there's more! The FCC indicated in the first week of January that it may lift the $400 million cap on the Rural Health Care (RHC) Program, which supports broadband connectivity for rural healthcare providers. Spending requests exceeded that cap in 2016 and apparently will do so as well in 2017. The FCC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on whether to adjust the spending, which would be used on rural broadband infrastructure. That could be a boon to connectivity in some rural areas.
Otherwise, as this Light Reading article notes, support for rural broadband may only come in the form of lighter regulations and greater incentives for private investment.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading