President Donald Trump’s push to provide broadband internet to most rural areas could cost $80 billion to set up according to some estimates, but the administration hasn’t decided exactly how much federal money to spend.
“Our suspicion is the president’s plan won’t be sufficient,” Johnathan Hladik, policy director for Nebraska’s Center for Rural Affairs, told Bloomberg News Monday. “We’re happy he’s saying it. You also have to do it, and that’s where it gets tough.”
About 55 percent of people in rural areas have the option of fast download speeds of 25 megabits per second, compared to 94 percent of urban areas that have access to high-speed service, according to the Congressional Research Service.
One problem is how much the federal government should subsidize the initiative. Trump’s administration hasn’t released an exact amount for how much building internet infrastructure in rural areas will cost, but according to an Obama-era study released in January, providing coverage to 98 percent of rural America will cost about $80 billion. If the government invests $40 billion, it could still reach around 94 percent of the uncovered areas.
The administration has several initiatives to work on rural broadband. The Federal Communications Commission started the Rural Broadband Auctions Task Force several months ago, which will offer “$2 billion to [internet provider] bidders to connect unserved and underserved locations over the next decade.”
Lawmakers from rural states, however, are pushing for complete internet coverage. The FCC “must accurately target every area that is in need of support so that no one is left behind,” Republican Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker and West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin wrote in a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai in April.
The Department of Agriculture’s Rural Prosperity Task Force, created by a Trump executive order, will also present ideas for how to improve internet access to rural areas. Farmers, ranchers and rural communities are increasingly in need of high-speed mobile access.
Internet connectivity “is becoming the roads, the water, the sewers, of the 21st century,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said at the inaugural meeting of the task force June 15.
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