NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A U.S. Department of Agriculture body released Monday a list of recommendations focused on ways to boost rural communities and expand these regions’ businesses. The recommendations included steps to increase access to capital, grow agricultural production and further develop the country’s infrastructure and internet access.
The report was released the same day as President Donald Trump’s appearance before attendees of the American Farm Bureau Annual Convention in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity said maintaining opportunities and drawing people to rural America was crucial in promoting economic development in these communities.
The task force noted in its report the importance of internet connectivity, in which 39 percent of the rural population lacks access to “broadband at speeds necessary for advanced telecommunications and data transfer capability.”
“Past efforts to connect rural America have resulted in the allocation of substantial amounts of federal funds for broadband deployment and, while such investments made important contributions, our country has not fully achieved the connectivity needed for success in the economy of today and tomorrow,” the report said. “Although capital investment is one aspect of bridging the divide, far too many government policies stifle network buildout.”
The task force mentioned lifting regulatory barriers, incentivizing private investment and assessing the effectiveness of current programs as methods to strengthen internet access.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said in a press release she was glad to see the focus placed on expanding internet access. Capito has supported the development of high-speed broadband internet in rural communities as part of her her Capito Connect plan.
“West Virginia is a predominately rural state, and too often our rural communities have needs that simply aren’t being met. I’m so happy the Trump administration is drawing attention to the needs of rural communities and working to find solutions that can improve the lives of those who call these communities home,” she said.
Capito previously described the Capito Connect plan as “a gateway to economic growth in rural America.” Her approach includes fostering collaboration with the private and public sectors, as well as community outreach to understand how to address needs.
The committee also recommended supporting production through financing programs and actions such as reducing federal regulations, addressing gaps in commercial transportation and increasing access to other markets.
Trump created the task force in April through an executive order.
The president spoke Monday and touched on what his administration has done to help rural Americans, including passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December and cutting regulations.
“I used to call them the forgotten men and women, and then when everyone saw them coming into the polls, the other side said, ‘How do we get some of them?’” he said. “They were unbelievable. They are forgotten no more. Remember that.”
Trump signed two executive orders after the speech aimed at promoting the development of affordable and high-speed broadband internet. One of the orders directs the Department of the Interior to create terms that would increase access to facilities managed by the agency.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue visited West Virginia in September, which included taking part in a roundtable discussion with state leaders and speaking to the National Association of State Foresters.