Connecting state and local government leaders

Trump Signs 2 New Executive Orders to Aid Rural Broadband Development

Medicine Lake, Montana

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Connecting state and local government leaders

The president promised Farm Bureau members that “you're going to have great, great broadband.” But the new White House actions don’t appear to come with additional federal funding.

During an address before the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, President Trump on Monday announced that he would sign two new executive orders aimed at making it easier to expand broadband infrastructure in rural areas.

The first mandates the Interior Department to devote a portion of assets under its jurisdiction for broadband; a second that calls for streamlining permitting and procedures for the siting of telecommunication towers on federal rights-of-way and facilities.

The executive orders come as the White House released policy recommendations from the Rural Prosperity Task Force, a group Trump created in April.

"Those towers are going to go up, and you're going to have great, great broadband," Trump said in Nashville, according to The Tennessean.

Like some other executive actions from the White House, including the president declaring an opioid abuse public health emergency in October, Trump’s new executive orders do not appear to dedicate additional federal financial resources to the White House’s rural broadband efforts.

Rural broadband development has long been a challenge for both private-sector telecommunications providers and policymakers trying to figure out the best ways to connect populations in sparsely populated regions.

Leveraging federal land for private-sector broadband expansion has been an idea discussed on Capitol Hill, as Route Fifty has previously reported.

During a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on communications and technology hearing last March, Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn said that the federal government “should modernize our laws to address issues such as tower siting and federal rights of way, which are tying the hands of our private sector.”

That has been a priority of the Competitive Carriers Association, a trade group representing the wireless communications industry.

As CNET reported on Monday:

Competitive Carrier Association President Steven Berry, whose organization represents rural providers, applauded the task force's report and the Trump administration's efforts.

"The report rightly recognizes the unfortunate truth that many rural areas remain unserved and underserved, creating a digital divide throughout the country," he said.  "I commend the administration for its work to streamline permitting processes, and especially for allowing infrastructure builds on federal facilities.  There is no question federal lands are an important part of our country and providing seamless coverage in these areas is just as important as any other location, especially during times of emergencies."

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Michael Grass is Executive Editor of Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Seattle.

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