By Scott Robertson
I was so ready to write my first column praising the president. Donald Trump came to Tennessee Monday to sign an executive order, “to reduce barriers to capital investment, remove obstacles to broadband services, and more efficiently employ governmental resources,” specifically targeted toward rural America. It could revolutionize the American workforce. It could jumpstart the Southern Appalachian economy.
Businesses that need broadband to survive could move their operations to small-town America, saving huge money in other costs by doing so. Right now, they’re overpaying for labor and real estate in places like Northern Virginia, while Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia are preparing a workforce that can handle their needs.
But since the birth of broadband, the largest providers of broadband service have, for the most part, shunned rural America. The profit margins for providing service to so few people spread over what is often rugged terrain simply aren’t there. Yes, they could make money by doing it, but not at the scale needed to put their attention there instead of other places.
The solution is to remove the anti-competitive barriers that keep smaller companies from providing broadband to those rural communities the giant providers have no interest in serving. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and the state general assembly took a first step in that direction last year, making it possible for rural electric cooperatives to offer broadband. But that’s only a first step.
So when the president arrived in Nashville with Sharpie in hand, I was eager to use this space to talk about the progress we could make because of his action.
Instead, I’m licking myself for being sucked into believing he was something he’s not. To take a colloquialism from western rural America, Trump was all hat and no cattle.
William Isom, who has been trying for years to open rural Northeast Tennessee markets to broadband, said after reading the order, “this order does not allocate any real funding or support for entities best positioned to solve our connectivity issues.”
You may remember, the president beat a field of establishment Republicans in the GOP primaries in large part because of a widespread perception that the GOP had abandoned many of its core principles in favor of political expediency. Donald Trump, to be sure, was not an establishment Republican.
Republicans also have a history of talking big on issues like immigration and abortion, but delivering precious little. Roe v Wade, for instance, is still the law of the land. Now you can add rural broadband to the list. Big talk. Little action.
As Ronald Reagan would say, “there you go again.” The broadband order says all the right things, except for how it plans to accomplish its lofty aims.
The desire to do something without a plan to achieve it is called a wish. So the executive order says, in essence, “Best wishes.” Well, gee thanks, mister.
For a guy who isn’t a career politician, the president is certainly getting the hang of it quickly. But that didn’t stop the president from trumpeting the virtues of well, himself. “Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” he told a crowd of farmers. “you are so lucky I gave you that privilege.”
After Monday’s signing, rural America is still looking for a way to break the bigger-market monopoly on 25 Mbps down/3Mbps up speed. The shame of it is, the president had the opportunity to step up and make a real difference for rural communities. After all, without the votes of rural Americans, Donald Trump would be living under President Hillary Clinton right now.
Rural America gave Donald Trump the White House. Rural America gave him the chance to represent its interests in Washington. Monday, the president missed a great chance to thank the people of rural America for giving him that privilege.