digging trench for broadband PinkBadger/iStock/Thinkstock
END OF THE LINE: Bringing broadband internet access to rural communities will take a collaborative effort among local, state and federal entities.

Broadband: Connecting the last mile

Ag Matters: State, federal and local government collaborating to bring broadband to rural America.

In late August, I traveled to Washington D.C., to participate in the White House rural infrastructure meeting. Every time I visit our nation's capital, I am reminded of the thousands of people who work there to serve the American people.

Alongside several other state agriculture directors, I heard U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney, Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance Ray Starling, and Special Assistant to the President for Infrastructure Policy DJ Gribben discuss the value of placing infrastructure control in the hands of state and local authorities. The message shared by these leaders fit in so well with the direction we’ve been moving in Missouri agriculture — empowering people to do what they do best.

The other common theme that emerged was the importance of collaboration. I sat among a crowd of about 100 local and state government officials who were eager to learn and explore ways to partner. That collaborative spirit fully extends to the relationship between Missouri and the federal government.

Rebuilding in multiple ways
We are extremely fortunate to have partners in D.C. who can help us further our mission to protect Missouri agriculture, delivering real change to farm families where it matters. Rural Missouri needs infrastructure improvements to rebuild Main Street and revitalize our communities for the next generation. It will take investment in our locks and dams, roads and bridges, and telecommunications infrastructure.

A priority for us at the Missouri Department of Agriculture has been to collaborate and bring partners together until every last mile of rural Missouri is connected to high-speed internet. Scattered access to high-speed internet is an issue across rural America: 39% of rural Americans (23 million people) lack access to at least 25 megabits per second down/3 Mbps up.

Unfortunately, in Missouri, we have a much larger hurdle to overcome. The FCC Broadband Progress Report shows that 1.25 million Missourians don’t have access to high-speed internet (25 Mbps/3 Mbps). That’s 20% of all Missourians, 5% of those living in urban areas and 61% of those living in rural areas. Having Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens champion this issue is a huge advantage. His support, paired with President Donald Trump’s push for improved rural infrastructure, has injected new energy in moving rural broadband forward — because this issue needs both state and federal support to be successful.

One way state and federal governments can better work together is to streamline rules and regulations that may overlap. As I’ve discussed previously, we are reviewing all of our rules and regulations to ensure we’re doing the right things to protect both farmers and consumers. We know that farmers just want to farm, and be allowed the latitude to use their expertise as they raise animals and grow crops. Our goal is to empower farmers to do just that.

We’re looking at the big picture. We’re taking into account where the rules are coming from — are they state or are they federal? All of our rules need to be in line with each other if we’re going to make a real difference to farmers. If rules are duplicative, maybe we need to eliminate a layer. If rules are unnecessary or outdated, it might be time to get rid of them. We just wrapped up the open comment period of our regulatory review process, but that doesn’t mean you missed out. The Department of Agriculture will continue to accept feedback at agriculture.mo.gov/rulereview. Input on other state department’s rules can be submitted online at nomoredtape.com

We are confident the results of this process will lead to an environment that is friendlier to our farmers and ranchers, and more transparent and trustworthy to consumers.

Chinn is the director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture and a hog producer from Clarence.

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