Trump backs high-speed internet access, ‘especially’ in rural America

President Trump said on Tuesday that he was committed to ensuring “every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including — and especially in — rural America.

With rural Americans continuing to suffer a digital divide, President Trump said on Tuesday that he was committed to ensuring “every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including — and especially in — rural America.” The White House provided no immediate details, but the Federal Communications Commission voted last week to establish a $20 billion “rural digital opportunity fund.”

During his State of the Union address, Trump said the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the successor to NAFTA, will “massively boost” farm exports and the Phase One agreement with China will “open vast new markets for products made and grown right here in the United States of America.” An analysis by a federal agency said the USMCA would increase annual ag exports to Canada and Mexico by 1%. China is obliged under the Sino-U.S. agreement to triple its purchases of American ag exports, but no major sales have been announced.

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Trump included broadband in a section of the speech that called for rebuilding American infrastructure. After calling for congressional passage of a highway bill, Trump said, “I am also committed to ensuring that every citizen can have access to high-speed internet, including — and especially in — rural America.”

The Pew Research Center says the digital divide between urban and rural Americans persists although it is narrower than a few years ago. Nearly two thirds of rural Americans said in a 2019 Pew survey they have a broadband connection at home, up from one third in 2007. But three quarters of metropolitan Americans have broadband at home. In a separate Pew survey in 2018, rural Americans were nearly twice as city dwellers — 24% vs. 13% — to say getting access to high-speed internet is a major problem.

When commissioners voted for the $20 billion rural digital fund, the FCC said it was its biggest step yet to close the digital divide. The money would be spent over 10 years, with up to $16 billion in the first phase to provide fixed broadband service of at least 25 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads in census blocks that lack broadband service. The USDA also offers grants, low-interest loans, and a combination of grants and loans to build high-speed internet infrastructure in rural areas with insufficient service.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.

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