Agriculture Department Secretary Sonny Perdue Speaks on Trump Administration and Broadband

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Editor’s Note: From the press gaggle on Wednesday, June 21, 2017, between White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Waters, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, and members of the press, about broadband internet services:

PRESS GAGGLE
BY DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY LINDSAY WALTERS
SECRETARY OF AGRICULTURE SONNY PERDUE

Aboard Air Force One
En Route Cedar Rapids, Iowa

5:12 P.M. CDT

WALTERS:  Good evening, everybody.  As you all know, we’re on our way to Cedar Rapids, where the President will highlight precision agriculture and discuss trade.  Lots of people associate technology with only Silicon Valley, but, actually, there are many other sectors of our economy that are taking advantage of technological advances, including agriculture.

We’re going to be visiting Kirkwood Community College, which is one of the first programs to have an associate’s degree is precision agriculture.  The President, along with Secretary Perdue, Secretary Ross, and Ambassador Branstad will be engaging with some of the people who are bringing cutting-edge technology to the ag sector.

With me today I have Secretary Perdue.  I’m going to walk you through the rest of the evening, take a few questions, and then I will hand it over to the Secretary to give you more in-depth details on how technology plays an active role in the agriculture sector and the importance of us being in Iowa.

Today, while we’re in Iowa, you’re going to hear the President talk about this precision agriculture and what it means for the agricultural community to be advancing to the technological age of tomorrow, and how this is going to help farmers ensure the highest yield of crop production each year.

This is not only about the equipment, it’s also about the data that they’re going to be able to collect.  And with this data, one component is Internet access availability — you know, Internet connectivity — are you able to take this data that you’re collecting and then be able to do something with it.

And so you’re going to hear in the President’s speech later today not only the discussion around the importance of advancing agriculture, but also this broadband connectivity in rural communities so that they have the access to modern-day technology both in the equipment and when it comes to cellular usage and data.  And so what he’s going to be doing is reinforcing his commitment to working with Congress to do what’s needed to be able to help bring you this Internet connectivity to rural communities, as well as, as you all know, we are sending off the favored son of Iowa, former Governor Branstad.

And so the President is going to be bidding him farewell while we are at the event at Kirkwood College.  While there, he will highlight the fact that, as Senator Grassley said, Branstad has been an ambassador for the people of Iowa.  And now going to China as a skilled negotiator, he will be an ambassador for all American people as he looks at trade.  And that’s an important thing — the President has spoken to the importance that trade holds for the American people and that relationship — to have an ambassador with such skills over in China, advocating for all American people.

So with that, I will take your questions.

[…]

Q    For Internet in rural areas, would you like to see more federal spending to make that happen?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  As we know, the productivity or the profitability in less-dense areas is very difficult.  But we also know that this country created the Rural Electrification Association years ago in an obligation to serve.  We know most everyone in the country can get a dial tone today.  We think we ought to have the same push to have broadbandconnectivity all over the country, because in the 21st century, it’s just as important as a telephone, just as important as water, sewer, or roads.  It has become an infrastructure of necessity in rural areas as we’ve described how technology is driving agriculture.

Does that mean that it’s going to be — I think government will have to help, whether it’s local government, states government, or the federal government.  But we want partnerships.  We want people that have skin in the game.  These are going to be revenue streams coming in.  People are going to pay for these services, but we’ve got to help ignite that and kick-start that in order to make sure it gets where it need to be.

Q    How much would it cost, do you think, to get it started?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  I’m sorry?

Q    How much would it cost?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  We don’t know yet.  We’re actually developing proposals now with our rural broadbandconnectivity, independent telephone systems, rural cooperatives there.  We gave a loan for about $46 million, I think, two weeks ago to some of our rural cooperatives in order to get that started.  So we haven’t calculated how much.  It’s a big price tag, but who shares what part of that will probably differ from place to place.

Q    So there’s not a plan yet for rural broadband?  In other words, you’re in the beginning stages of trying to figure out how you’re going to do it, or —

SECRETARY PERDUE:  I don’t think you’re going to see a national plan, per se, because each area is different.  Each area has different services now.  Some are served by independent telephone companies that are already providing some of these services.  How we help them extend that in the more rural areas will be different in every area.

So there’s not going to be a national footprint.  We’re going to take every area.  That’s what our department at the Rural Development USDA will do in working with the resources that we have, the assets out in every area of the country in order to make broadband — rural broadband as ubiquitous as we can.

Q    But ag takes the lead on rural broadband.  Is that the idea?

SECRETARY PERDUE:  (Inaudible), along with Chairman Ajit Pai of FCC, we’re in communication.  He was part of our rural taskforce last week along with 21 other agencies that came together to talk about rural prosperity and the barriers for rural prosperity to catch up with the urban areas regarding their livelihoods.

(Caricature of Sonny Perdue by Donkey Hotey used with permission.)

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