Skip to Content

Digitally Unequal

Poor areas have lousy Internet. Here’s what Trump can do to help them.
December 20, 2016

The economic and democratic activities of American life now rely on advanced communications services—and there’s a huge gap between those who get access to these services and those who don’t. It springs from a lack of infrastructure investment in some parts of the country (see “The Hole in the Digital Economy”).

And where are these places? It just so happens that the areas with the least investment in communications infrastructure, like fiber-optic cabling, are the same rural precincts that broke so strongly for Donald Trump in November.

Rural areas are typically served only by phone company infrastructure—aging copper networks. That means they’ve never benefited from competitive cable networks that could provide faster and cheaper access to the Internet. Some rural networks date back a century and are being shut down or neglected as phone companies find that their dollars can be spent more profitably elsewhere. Given the massive up-front investment that’s necessary, there’s simply not enough revenue potential in rural areas to justify the capital cost of upgrading networks.

“The areas with the worst communications infrastructure broke strongly for Trump in November.”

President-elect Trump knows a thing or two about using tax, subsidy, and partnership strategies to get projects financed and built. Here are three ways he could use that knowledge to shrink the digital divide.

First, if Trump proposes a major infrastructure financing bill, as anticipated, he should include broadband infrastructure. Broadband deployment creates immediate construction jobs and also offers long-term economic benefits. High-speed Internet is the electricity of the 21st century—you don’t get economic growth without it.

Second, he should expand the New Market Tax Credits program, which lets community development agencies in poor areas sell tax credits to private entities to help finance economic development projects (like new broadband infrastructure). This is a bipartisan program that generates more revenue than it costs. It gets investment into areas that would otherwise struggle to attract private capital.

Third, he should allow public-private entities to use tax-free municipal bonds to build communications infrastructure. Typically, such bonds can’t be used for projects where a private entity will use whatever infrastructure ends up being built, and that rule is stifling development. Pikeville, Kentucky, is trying to finance the construction of a fiber-optic network that it would subsequently lease to private entities that could then offer services on the network (since the city doesn’t want to be in the broadband business). Under the current rules, this kind of project can’t be built with tax-free municipal bonds. Trump could change that.

The president-elect has long been a builder of hotels, golf courses, and casinos. It’s time he invested in the critical communications infrastructure necessary for economic growth in the rural areas that supported him so strongly.

Joanne Hovis is the CEO of the Coalition for Local Internet Choice and the president of CTC Technology & Energy.

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.