Trump signs rural broadband order, forgets funding

In the absence of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at CES, President Trump took it upon himself to shake up the internet at the start of this week. The buzz from the famous trade show largely dissipated the news, but the signing of two new executive orders to bring high-speed broadband to rural parts of the US is a move which has somewhat backfired – receiving much criticism for missing the mark in what is really required to boost broadband.

The plan is to improve infrastructure for farmers and other small businesses, although Trump doesn’t appear to have set out any funding structure to accommodate his signature. He highlighted a $200 billion infrastructure proposal last year and the general consensus is that just a fraction of this will trickle down to reach the 23 million people, some 39% of rural Americans, still without high-speed broadband connections today.

“His executive orders on rural broadband are so small it would be like claiming to solve the health care problem in America by changing policies around how people can make appointments,” said Christopher Mitchell, the Director for the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

The first executive order signed this week, at the American Farm Bureau Convention in Nashville, aims to give private firms access to infrastructure in areas owned by the government, while the second intends to reduce the complexity required in building out broadband in rural areas by slashing paperwork. The latter has come under scrutiny because, in the grand scheme of things, governmental admin work is the least of worries in bringing high-speed broadband to rural Americans.

Installing expensive fiber with little return on investment from the handful of users in rural areas does not interest the big ISPs, while providing grants or even funding government-run infrastructure initiatives are options that seem to have been ignored. Instead, regulatory changes have been made to encourage others to put in the leg work, yet it’s worth noting that community-driven projects to build internet services have been blocked by Big Telecom, such as a city-operated broadband network in Colorado last year.

The orders are really all about 5G towers, and the only two companies talking about fixed wireless are AT&T and Verizon – so the news essentially reads as a government hand out for the two operators.

Supporters claim the legislation will get the ball rolling, as the myriad of federal, state and local hurdles have restricted broadband projects in rural US from moving forward in the past. Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn said in an interview with Breitbart News, “On the innovation side, we want to make sure that we do not choose winners and losers. The legislation that we bring forward will be technology neutral so that individuals can bring internet through wireline, or fiber, or wireless, or fixed-wireless, or satellite, they will be able to do that. This will bring more opportunities for them to meet their needs in the most cost-effective way.”

“Those towers are going to go up, and you are going to have great, great, broadband,” Trump declared to the 5,000 attendees.