Trump touts broadband lipstick in Iowa, but will he put it on a pig?

24 June 2017 by Steve Blum
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Broadband is now explicitly included in president Donald Trump’s planned trillion dollar infrastructure program. Up until now, his focus has been on big civil engineering projects, like roads, bridges and dams. But Trump made it clear in a speech in Iowa earlier this week that telecoms infrastructure will be included…

If we continue to train our workers in these new technologies, then we will usher in a new era of prosperity for American agriculture and for the American farming family.

We must also ensure that these students have the broadband Internet access they need in order to succeed and thrive in this new and very modern and very changed economy and world. That is why I will be including a provision in our infrastructure proposal — $1 trillion proposal — you’ll be seeing it very shortly — to promote and foster enhanced broadband access for rural America also. We know that Wall Street wants it very badly, but you know what else? The farmers also want it. And you’re going to have it.

The big questions, though, are what kind of broadband infrastructure and who is going to build and operate it?

Trump is not a details guy, particularly when the issue involves something that doesn’t interest him personally. He’s shown no particular passion for broadband development or the nitty gritty of telecoms policy. Which means that he’ll be relying on his advisors to come up with a plan to improve broadband availability in rural America.

Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai is one of those key advisors and a policy maker in his own right. He’s been very specific about how he thinks any rural broadband development subsidies should be spent: channel it to incumbents via existing programs, like the Connect America Fund, that set low speed standards – 10 Mbps download/1 Mpbs upload – which can be achieved by tweaking decades old technology. Instead of replacing it.

It would be a tragedy if that mindset prevails, but so far AT&T, Frontier Communications and other incumbents have successfully pushed that message both in Washington, D.C. and in Sacramento, where lawmakers are lining up to reduce California’s minimum broadband speed standards. It’s good that Trump is talking about broadband, but not if it means stranding rural (and inner city) communities with 1990s service levels.