President Donald Trump took issue with the speed of broadband buildouts to rural Americans and anchor institutions Wednesday (Feb. 21), calling it an "intolerable" situation, though suggesting (as with many other things) that it was a problem he had inherited.
In the President's Economic Report to the Congress released Wednesday, he suggested the broadband ball had been dropped on prior watches.
"President Clinton promised to connect 'every classroom, every library, and every hospital in America,' to the Internet by 2000," he wrote. "Decades later, 39% of rural Americans still lack high-speed broadband. And a quarter of America’s K-12 students lack adequate Internet connectivity at school. It is intolerable to continue pretending that this is the best America can offer to our students. My administration is working to expand accessibility and expedite the process of bringing the Internet to hard-to-reach areas."
Trump has said rural access to broadband, particularly by farmers, is key and has proposed using $50 billion in federal funds for rural infrastructure, though without earmarking any of that specifically to broadband -- he wants to leave it up to states to decide how to prioritize the funds.
The president's report was released along with that of his Council of Economic Advisors. The latter's report spent a good bit of ink on broadband, pointing out that the lack of a business case for rural buildouts was a key factor.
"Private firms of today face many of the same basic problems that hindered infrastructure development to expand electrification and telephone service to rural areas during the early part of the last century: challenging geographical features and a lack of scale economies in regions with low population densities," the council said.
The council suggested that while there are options for government "intervention" in the marketplace, the report signaled intervention should be minimized. Those options include "loans and loan guarantees, infrastructure grants, universal service reform, tax incentives, direct assistance to taxpayers, and regulatory and deregulatory measures.
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But perhaps one reason the administration is not ready to earmark money for buildouts of "conventional infrastructure assets" is the rise of 5G and the ability to boost it by "shaping investment choices. "[I]t is important to proceed with an understanding of the availability of next-generation and mobile broadband technologies, because these may prove less costly and more desirable to consumers in the long run," the council said.
The council said that keys to that 5G rollout are standards and the regulatory environment. "Establishing a flexible and adaptive regulatory structure will be needed to support future 5G deployment, with coordination across federal, state, and local government levels," it said, pointing to the FCC's April 2017 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on removing barriers to broadband infrastructure.