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Rick Worthington Agriculture and Rural Prosperity
by Rick Worthington, click here for bio

Program: Farm and Ranch Report
Date: January 22, 2018

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The Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity has presented the President with a report on ways to improve life in rural areas.

Anne Hazlett, Special Assistant to the Agriculture Secretary for Rural Development, talks about the report.

"The report was issued by the president’s Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity last week in conjunction with President Trump’s speech to the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue chaired the task force, which included a representative from each Cabinet department along with representatives from another 12 federal agencies, commissions, and White House policy offices.

The task force identified broadband connectivity as the keystone to reach goals for economic development, innovation, ag production efficiency, research, and other measures. “E-connectivity is fundamental for economic development, innovation, advancements in technology, workforce readiness, and an improved quality of life,” the report said.

The broadband recommendations include getting President Trump to authorize an inter-agency group to make a rural broadband plan, adding White House staff to manage that process, and looking at the effectiveness and duplication of current federal broadband funding programs.

Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband advocate with the Institute for Local Self Reliance, said the proposal looks like a document that will be used to eliminate broadband funding, not improve it.

“To me, this looks an effort to de-fund important programs that are bringing broadband to rural America, not a set of policy proposals looking to solve the problem,” he said. “It’s a report whose number one recommendation is to ‘establish executive leadership to expand e-connectivity.’ It’s a plan to make a plan.”

USDA currently funds broadband deployment through its Rural Utilities Service, which also helps communities with funding for telephones and the power grid

The report says lack of private investment is holding back rural broadband. For that problem, the task force blames low population density, difficult terrain, and bureaucracy. “… [B]roadband providers often face bureaucratic obstacles to building a network, including arduous application processes, lack of access to infrastructure, and burdensome regulatory reviews.”

The Federal Communications Commission was one of the entities represented on the task force, and recommendations in the report mirror current FCC priorities. For example, the FCC is considering a proposal to allow cellular service to qualify as broadband, and that recommendation is in the rural report."

Many of the recommendations throughout the report involve improving cooperation among federal agencies, establishing additional task forces, reducing regulatory burdens and finding better ways to use existing resources.

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