The Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity, a group established last April by President Trump to seek out and solve barriers to rural economic development – especially regulatory barriers – has released a list of five recommendations for government action. At the very top of the list: “Achieving e-Connectivity for Rural America.”
“This task force report rightfully identifies a number of key areas that are essential to economic growth, and nearly all depend on expanded access to high-speed internet,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson in a statement on the recommendations. “For decades, electric cooperatives have enhanced the quality of life throughout rural America. Now, co-ops across the nation are helping reinvigorate rural economies by bringing broadband access to homes and businesses.”
The task force report alludes to the importance of co-ops’ role. “Rural electric cooperatives have begun deploying fiber optic networks throughout their service areas to meet the current, growing, and future demand for smart grid services, such as demand side management, distributed generation and renewable integration, and smart home technologies, as well as increased grid security,” it finds. “The ability to dynamically manage energy use is critical to ensuring network reliability, enhancing system-wide efficiency and keeping electric rates affordable for rural residents and businesses.”
The report is slightly late. Trump formed the task force on April 24 and asked for a report within 180 days. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue chaired the group and representatives from 21 other federal agencies participated in the task force’s activities.
Among three specific actions the report recommends is to “implement a strategy based on best practices to deploy rural e-connectivity across the nation.” That would include further interagency cooperation among Department, National Telecommunications and Information Administration, FCC, as well as the Agriculture, Education, Interior, Health & Human Services departments.
The report also calls for further investigation of the current state of affordable internet access in rural areas to estimate the necessary total investment to close the gaps. At the same time, the report calls for reassessment of current federal grant and loan programs to eliminate inefficiencies and duplication and streamlining of any bureaucratic barriers to broadband construction.
Finally, the report recommends policies to encourage private investment, including more public-private partnerships. “Such partnerships can bring innovation and investment of sustainable capital to bridge the e-connectivity gap in the fastest and most affordable manner,” the report finds.