President Trump has rejected a plan once backed by prominent Republicans to use the federal government's power to build out next generation 5G wireless broadband networks nationwide, including in rural areas where service can be slow, spotty or nearly nonexistent.

The controversial plan was supported by the likes of Karl Rove, Newt Gingrich and even Trump's own 2020 campaign manager. The idea would be for the 5G network to basically be nationalized and then leased to private carriers by the federal government. 

While the details could be messy, the notion here is that Trump could use the federal government's power to throw his rural base supporters a bone. 

But at a press event meant to promote new rural broadband funding and an upcoming spectrum auction, the President also made it clear that the only bone he would be presenting would be going to private wireless carriers.

"In the United States, our approach is private sector driven. The government doesn't have to spend lots of money," President Trump said during the press conference Friday. "We had another alternative of doing it that would be through government investment and we don't want to do that because it won't be nearly as good."

So instead of taking a new, bold approach to building out a true nationwide high-speed network, Trump is opting for business as usual, which is downright dreary for many rural Americans.

The rural broadband funding that the President announced today is merely a continuation of an Obama administration program.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai told Ars Technica that the new version of the program will "provide up to gigabit-speed broadband in the parts of the country most in need of connectivity."

This is certainly better than nothing, but the selectivity of the program will likely serve to only deepen the digital divide. 

What's worse: actually translating federal broadband deployment funds into actual high-speed data flowing in and out of rural households can be a downright disgraceful process.

Here in rural New Mexico, telecommunications companies have sometimes spent nearly as much fighting their obligations to build better infrastrtucture for rural customers in court as the cost of simply fulfilling those obligations.

So instead most rural voters, many of whom supported Trump, will be left to rely on corporate wireless carriers obligated to their shareholders to follow the money. Ironically, that path leads to larger and more prosperous cities that are not exactly Trump strongholds. 

Published on: Apr 12, 2019
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