The Trump Budget and the Internet

Posted by fakebenjay on March 21, 2017

Last week, the White House released its first budget proposal under President that guy from The Apprentice who somehow is president now and also a neofascist Trump. While the Trump budget carries little actual weight as a policy document (Congress drafts and passes the budget, and the White House’s budget is primarily a proposal,) it does provide many insights into the government’s funding priorities.

Severe cuts in the neighborhood of 30% are proposed for the EPA and the State Department, and numerous independent agencies are facing, most notably the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts (take that Sesame Street!)

(Oscar the Grouch may have won the battle against eminent domain for Sesame Street, but President Ronald Grump is winning the war)

The budget does not explicity mention cuts related to internet access programs. In fact, it specifically affirms the government’s intention to continue supporting the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). However, the White House did list the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) on its list of programs to eliminate.

The ARC is a federal-state partnership, established in the 1960s to foster economic development and community infrastructure, and increase quality of life in parts of twelve states.

In October, the ARC unveiled the Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit, aimed at expanding internet access in Appalachia. According to the FCC, about 34 million Americans lack broadband access, including 23 million in rural America.

Internet access in general, and broadband in particular, is increasingly being recognized as a necessary utility, and lack of it deprives people of crucial opportunities. Six countries, Finland, Spain, France, Greece, Costa Rica, and Estonia have passed laws guaranteeing the right to internet access. Spain, Estonia, and Finland have specifically guaranteee broadband access to its citizens, and have taken concrete steps to provide it. Going to school or finding a job without the internet is incredibly difficult, and will only become more so with time. In Appalachia, increasing internet access can provide tremendous (and overdue) benefits to formerly-booming communites in coal country, and at remarkably little cost.

According to the ARC’s own release:

Research summarized in the primer and toolkit indicates that 80 new jobs are created for every additional 1,000 broadband users served, and that gaining 4 Mbps of broadband speed can increase household income by $2,100 a year.

Additionally, an ARC program aimed at expanding broadband access in ten communites in Western North Carolina, cost all of $272,000, barely a drop of mist in the bucket that is the federal budget.

The Broadband Planning Primer and Toolkit is, itself, a guide and list of resources designed to help officials in Appalachia identify and serve underserved communities, but it’s also part of a larger five year investment plan at increasing economic opportunity in the region, all of which is now under threat.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose constituency includes Eastern Kentucky coal country, has publicly opposed the White House’s ARC cuts. However, he does the support cuts to the EPA, citing damage they’ve caused to Eastern Kentucky’s coal industry.