Connecting state and local government leaders
Officials estimate that 24 million people in the United States can't get broadband internet service. Eighty percent of those people live in rural areas.
The Trump administration announced a rural broadband initiative on Wednesday, saying federal agencies will work together to help companies deploy high-speed internet access in locations without service.
As part of the effort, which is being called the American Broadband Initiative, the Interior Department mapped more than 7,000 towers on public lands, which officials said could be used by service providers looking to put equipment on federal property. The department mapped the towers to show where there is availability.
The initiative also calls for streamlining permitting on federal land by creating a “one-stop” shop for information within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.
A report released by the White House, which was compiled by 20 agencies, includes the widely cited statistic that 24 million people can’t get broadband service in the United States, with about 80 percent of those people living in rural areas.
The report acknowledges what has long been a gripe of local leaders from rural areas: the imprecise Federal Communications Commission map of broadband coverage that overestimates its availability in many places. There are currently challenges pending at the FCC over the map, but the NTIA also this week announced that the agency will team up with eight states to gather better data on where customers can get broadband access. Those states are: California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia.
“Broadband is an essential part of America’s communications infrastructure, and an important component of our economic policy,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross in a news release. “The American Broadband Initiative will help government and industry target resources in the most efficient manner so all Americans can fully participate in advanced communications technologies.”
This year, the Department of Agriculture is making available $600 million in grants and loans for rural broadband expansion, which is open to municipalities, as well as rural electrical cooperatives, utilities, and more traditional providers. Despite the new funding, some have raised concerns that the inaccurate information about availability will mean places that need assistance won’t be eligible.
Laura Maggi is Managing Editor of Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.