Trump’s plan for rural broadband progress still unclear, but costs could reach $80B

During a trip to Iowa last month, President Trump pledged that bringing broadband internet to rural areas of the U.S. would be a part of his upcoming $1 trillion infrastructure proposal. While there is positivity around Trump’s intentions, there is doubt about the difficulty and cost of such an endeavor…

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Bloomberg reports that only 55% of those in rural U.S. locations have download speeds above 25 mbps, which is what the government considers “adequate service.” When it comes to urban areas, 94% of residents have access to higher speeds.

While population density is low in rural areas, there are many businesses that could benefit greatly from high-speed internet service.

Advocates say high-speed internet is an increasing necessity for everyday residential and business activity, and for economic growth.

One particular way that broadband internet could improve businesses in the U.S. is how farmers troubleshoot and fix their tractors and other equipment.

For example, farm equipment now comes with the option of remotely troubleshooting a problem with a tractor or combine — but only if you’ve got the bandwidth. Farmers who lack broadband must haul their equipment to a repair shop and potentially lose days of planting or harvesting. They also can’t get real-time data on soil or moisture conditions, which can lead to over-applying seeds and fertilizers, raising costs, creating environmental damage and making their farms less profitable and efficient.

Only initial details have been proposed on Trump’s plan with a full proposal being possibly pushed back into next year. However, the initial numbers suggest that much more funding would be necessary to achieve such a big broadband push.

It would take an estimated $80 billion to extend broadband to all U.S. areas that lack it, but the White House has initially proposed spending just $25 billion over 10 years on rural infrastructure needs. At the same time, policy experts disagree about how best to expand rural broadband — and what responsibility government has to subsidize it.

Those rooting for the infrastructure progress have also shared their doubts:

“Our suspicion is the president’s plan won’t be sufficient,’’ said Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs, a Nebraska-based non-profit that advocates for small farms. “We’re happy he’s saying it. You also have to do it, and that’s where it gets tough.’’

Sonny Perdue, the U.S. Agriculture Secretary confirmed that the Trump administration will look to build a collaboration between federal, state, and local governments along with the private sector, and that the White House hasn’t nailed down exactly how much it plans to invest in broadband.

“It’s a big price tag, but who shares what part of that will probably differ from place to place,’’ Perdue said. The goal is to make rural broadband “as ubiquitous as we can.’’

High speed internet reaching 100% of rural residents and businesses is unlikely, mostly due to cost. Bloomberg notes that dropping the broadband coverage just a few percentage points could greatly reduce the costs. Building infrastructure to cover 98% of rural areas could halve the cost to $40 billion, while 92% coverage could bring the total down to $10 billion.

At the end of last month Trump held a meeting with tech leaders, including Tim Cook with the purpose of looking for ways to use technology to cut costs and further modernize the United States government. Cook shared he believes that the Trump administration should focus on improving customer (citizen) satisfaction rates and giving the U.S. the most modern government in the world.


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