How Trump’s FCC Can Help Rural America

When Donald Trump won a surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election, he did so mainly because rural counties voted overwhelmingly in favor of the real change he promised. Voters in Livingston County in New York, where I live, gave Mitt Romney a 10-point victory in 2012—but it gave Trump a whopping 28-point victory in 2016. Rural Americans turned out for Trump-Pence in droves. This is why a county-by-county map of the election results paints an America that is virtually solid red, with only a few small islands of stubborn blue where urban liberals bucked the nationwide trend.

One reason for Trump’s popularity among rural Americans is his consistent emphasis on bringing economic opportunity to people long ago forgotten by our country’s globalized elites.

It is no secret that the steady loss of factory jobs to nations like China and Mexico has been killing many communities across the United States. Often, those job losses hurt the most in small towns and rural areas, where the departure of a single major employer can mean the difference between prosperity and destitution—and not just for those directly employed by that employer. Many of the smaller operations that grow up around the larger employer, offering support services and jobs, tend to go away as well. When bad times befall rural Americans, moreover, they often have great difficulty in pivoting to take advantage of new economic opportunities. Why? Partly because educational institutions, internships, apprenticeships, and job training programs concentrate in cities and suburbs. Not only are people in the countryside cut off from access to the kinds of opportunities urban elites enjoy, but they are also cut off from the tools to improve their skills and make connections with potential employers.

Recently, an exciting new proposal has surfaced that may allow the Trump administration, and specifically the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), to turn this depressing situation around. This solution would use existing communications infrastructure to expand horizons for rural Americans in a way that wouldn’t cost taxpayers a penny. Given the economic desolation confronting so much of “Trump country,” this is an opportunity that we cannot afford to miss.

In simple terms, the idea would be to use broadcast frequencies currently dedicated to television programming to bring broadband internet access to rural America.

In today’s economy, access to broadband internet is increasingly crucial for anyone wanting to connect with employers and gain valuable new skills. More than 20 million rural Americans, however, lack broadband internet access, mainly because of the logistical and technical challenge of offering it to people living in remote locations. Virtually the entire nation, however, is already connected to the broadcast frequency infrastructure in question. It could be repurposed to serve this need rather than television broadcasts. Moreover, many of these frequencies are unused, and the provision of broadband internet to millions of forgotten Americans would require only three, 600 MHz-range channels in each market (less than 10 percent of the total number) to be reassigned this noble purpose.

Individual consumers wouldn’t be alone in gaining connectivity, either. Farms and health care providers would benefit too, boosting agricultural potential and saving lives. Nonetheless, television broadcasters are opposing this move, because they refuse to share even the frequencies they aren’t using with any other industry.

What we have here is a classic case of outdated federal regulations impeding economic progress. “Economic progress,” though, hardly seems like a strong enough term, when the very survival of many rural communities is at stake. These are the areas where the opioid epidemic, deindustrialization, depopulation, and other crises, are deeply entrenched. We should do everything in our power to help these communities.

In this case, however, the federal government doesn’t have to do anything. The feds wouldn’t have to spend any money, either. They merely need to get out of the way, stop protecting the narrow interests of the television industry, and allow the marketplace to operate freely to fill the need for broadband internet access all across America.

The dedication of the Trump Administration to extirpating unnecessary and burdensome regulation to date has been marvelous to behold, and the reaction of the stock market to President Trump’s pro-business policies speaks for itself. The Trump boom, however, cannot and should not affect only those who happen to own stocks. The forgotten millions in rural America voted for Donald Trump because they expected a genuine change in economic policies to favor “the little guy” and to protect and multiply American jobs. By updating current FCC policies on broadcast frequencies, the Trump Administration could deliver on this promise in a way that would help lift up rural America.

As President Trump said on Election Night: “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.” Now is the time to translate words into deeds, and to provide rural Americans with the educational and economic opportunities that so many of us already take for granted.


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7 responses to “How Trump’s FCC Can Help Rural America”

  1. This is a damn good opinion piece and very representative of the common sense tools available to the Trump Administration to prime the pump, so to speak, for the greater good and to do so in reasonable ways that assist a broad cross-section of Americans.

  2. My family would benefit from this action since we live in rural East Texas with no broadband access, just satellite access, which sucks lemons.
    Do it, Trump!

  3. Not really: Although on the surface this is a good argument, in fact the telco providers are constantly upgrading their cable plant to fibre, and we’re now seeing cable companies, even in remote areas such as the mountains of Tennessee, to “overbuild.” What’s more, wireless internet service ain’t all it’s cracked up to be (this I learned from a small wireless internet provider in northern California, 300 miles north of San Fran).
    [The last time I had involvement with rural Internet access was in 1996, when the telcos could get Rural Electrification Authority (REA) subsidies; but a manager for Century Tel told me they don’t even bother as the bureaucratic regulations cost too much. Comcast came through to my relatives with cable service, including Internet, about 2005.]
    Here’s another thought which wouldn’t cost the taxpayer one cent: AT&T has a hard-on to buy Time Warner (including CNN): Since they want this property so badly, make it a condition of the deal that instead of divesting the CNN family, they must commit to broadband for rural areas with a rollout schedule.
    In short, if the house has phone/power poles nearby, it’s much better to hardwire and be done with it.

    • I disagree with you. I work for a small ISP that serves some rural areas. Yes, we are putting in fibre, but it’s still going in the cities. Areas with clear line of site are served by wireless “antennas”. It is not as fast as we would like, but it is not restricted by bandwidth in the way satellite internet is. And, more importantly for those who stream, it does not have the latency that satellite internet does.

      We have areas that we serve that simply do not have any choices. The big companies can’t make enough money to serve them. Let’s not make the big companies even bigger. Let’s make it easier for smaller companies to serve these local communities.

  4. FDR built a rural political empire (albeit not lasting forever) with rural electrification. Can President Trump do the same thing with rural broadbandification?

  5. NAB sees the writing on the wall, over-the-air broadcasting is a dinosaur.
    Spectrum belongs to ALL

  6. Unlike the writer and most commenters, I actually have an employment background (before I retired) that directly bears upon this subject. What you suggest will have limited utility in rural areas, because the frequencies in question are line-of-sight and have relatively short propagation, even at high power levels. These frequencies are also susceptible to considerable interference from weather conditions.

    People who are old enough to remember the pre-cable TV days will recall that TV signals typically didn’t carry much more than 40 or 50 miles — and that was only across flat terrain. They will also remember what happened during storms and even temperature inversions.

    There isn’t a silver bullet for rural broadband, but I can say this much from direct and current personal experience: If the feds subsidize the building of fiberoptic cables, like the one that passes next to my 20 acres, they should NOT pay the subsidy unless those cables include nodes (aka “digital loop carriers” aka “on/off ramps”). The cable running past my acreage is the equivalent of a 100-lane freeway without interchanges or exits. Yet someone got an $80 million subsidy to lay that cable.

    Job #1 is to not be completely stupid and corrupt. Nothing in this article convinces me that handing over VHF/low-UHF channels to the cellular carriers will improve rural broadband. I could be persuaded with more detail, but I am highly skeptical. This article strikes me as something produced by a telecommunications lobbyist. I see no solution here.