Trump's Rural Broadband Expansion Plans May Be Largely Ceremonial

Jan 11, 2018

The White House says it wants to bring broadband internet service to more remote and rural areas of the country. But getting internet to rural homes and businesses may take more than a presidential signature.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis, says the thing to keep in mind about expanding broadband’s reach into rural America is that a president’s executive orders may be well-intentioned, but can only go so far.

“Rural broadband [is] a large problem and Congress needs to get involved,” Mitchell says. “Without Congress’ help, the president is very limited in what he can do to improve the situation.”

Improving the situation would require Congress freeing up money so that agencies that need it – like the FCC or USDA – could put manpower on the mountains of paperwork needed to fully deal with the scale of expanding broadband.

The president’s executive orders make no mention of money to rural broadband providers. Rather, they aim to get government out of the way so providers can improve their services.

Rural broadband providers do need FCC regulations to loosen up the lower end of the broadband spectrum because sending signals at the lower end would allow those signals to penetrate trees, a common obstacle to broadband access in rural areas.

Tyler McCarley, owner of 903 Broadband in Leonard, says that for his company “to provide you with a great signal, we’ve got to have line-of-sight to our towers.”

Like most small providers in the rural broadband arena, 903 does not have the resources to invest in the kind of equipment that removes trees as an obstacle to signals. If the FCC would loosen regulations on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, McCarley says, mom-and-pop providers would see "a whirlwind of possibilities" in the number of people they could reach.