© 2024 KMUW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri, Harvest covers agriculture-related topics through a network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.

Federal Task Force Makes Broadband A Priority In Helping Rural Economic Revival

Grant Gerlock
Harvest Public Media/File photo
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue (center) chaired a task force of Trump Cabinet members looking into how to improve the rural economy.

Shoring up rural America’s economy must start with broadband access and technology, a federal task force says in a report released Monday.

The group, chaired by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and made up of other Cabinet members, says doing so will bring rural areas increased health care access, better job training, smart electrical grids and more precision farming technology. Little of that can be accomplished, the report says, without closing the broadband gap between urban and rural residents.

Read the report from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity.

As of 2014, 61 percent of rural residents had access to high-speed internet compared to 96 percent of urban people, according to the task force report. The federal government defines broadband by a download speed of at least 25 Mbps.

"We envision a rural America with world-class resources, tools and support to build a robust sustainable community for generations to come," Perdue told the American Farm Bureau Federation conference in Nashville, Tennessee.

Just hours after the report was released, President Donald Trump spoke to the conference and signed two executive orders: one to streamline approval of broadband projects and the other allowing towers to be built on federal land.

The task force also calls for more research on where broadband gaps remain and what it would cost to bring those areas up to speed.

The call for broadband access has been around for a while, says Jonathan Chambers, a former Federal Communications official who worked on rural issues. He says he backs the report’s "objectives," but he doesn't "find much meat on the bones."

Chambers says the development of rural broadband has been hampered in part because federal funding still pays for slower networks in rural areas.

"By that, I mean four megabits per second or 10 megabits per second services," Chambers says. "So the government pays for something that consumers don’t want."

Chambers adds that the FCC could broaden the range of businesses that are eligible for broadband funding to possibly include electric companies, cable providers and tech firms.

"If Google believes in balloons and Facebook believes in drones and OneWeb believes in satellites and every other type of technology, let them all compete," Chambers says.

Besides broadband, the rural task force suggests boosting rural economies by improving services to veterans, expanding trade and rebuilding infrastructure like roads, bridges and small-town water systems.


Follow Grant Gerlock on Twitter @ggerlock.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.


Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.