On Wednesday, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said infrastructure efforts between the president and Democratic leaders are probably “done.”
Well, if there’s one way to make sure a bridge doesn’t get built, that would be it.
But it’s not just bridges and roads that desperately need national attention. Much of America still falls prey to the rural digital divide, and it’s time Congress gets serious about bringing the internet to these corners of the country.
Rural Americans still lag behind their urban and suburban counterparts when it comes to internet access, including cellphone and high-speed data coverage. Although rural America has made gains in recent years, the pace of its development falls behind the rest of the country. So while more Americans have internet access than ever before, a geographical divide remains.
Less than two-thirds of rural residents have home broadband, according to the Pew Research Center, and rural Americans are more likely to say getting access to high-speed internet is a “major problem.”
And it is a major problem because access to information and educational opportunities is the most effective way to end cycles of intergenerational poverty, which has higher rates in rural regions.
Additionally, the Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a nonprofit aiming to advance childrens’ literacy, found that kids without home access to the internet are less likely to pursue their interests. That could quiet creative impulses or inhibit future entrepreneurs who could potentially bring jobs and development to their communities.
Fortunately, the fix is fairly straightforward — fund broadband infrastructure and make it a congressional priority. The idea has willing participants, the foremost being President Donald Trump, who has made infrastructure updates a focus of both his State of the Union addresses. He also was in bipartisan infrastructure talks with Democratic leaders until the negotiations blew up amid House committee investigations.
Now talk of impeachment and further investigations threaten to stymie any legislative progress between now and the 2020 election. But riding out the next year and a half would be a mistake. Expanding broadband infrastructure is the sort of bipartisan jump start the country needs right now.
Lawmakers could start by expediting pieces already in play. The Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act introduced in the House by Utah Rep. John Curtis aims to help Native American tribal governments quicken the arcane process of bringing broadband to their region. It would also streamline the bureaucracy involved to reduce the costs associated with the permit process.
The act passed the House last year but went no further. The Senate version, sponsored by Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, didn’t get a vote. It’s hard to see any rational criticism that would stop both chambers from taking up the bill and debating it.17 comments on this story
At the executive level, Trump should rekindle infrastructure talks with House leadership. He and congressional leaders will need to work together in the next few months to pass a budget, approve the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and deal with growing threats from Iran. Why not invite infrastructure to the party?
Presidents from Abraham Lincoln on have recognized the need to connect the country by expanding transportation options and educational opportunities. It’s what makes a nation prosper, and it was reaffirmed in a 1996 congressional mandate to bring emerging digital technologies to every corner of the country. Twenty-three years later, progress is moving at the speed of dial-up. Congress needs to speed things up.