The New Deal’s rural electrification and telephone programs are Exhibit A in a Minnesota congressman’s effort to get rural America wired for high-speed broadband.
“If we can wire rural America for electricity, if we can wire rural America for telephones, we can darn well wire rural America for high-speed broadband,” said U.S. Representative Rick Nolan, who represents Minnesota’s 8th congressional district.
Nolan’s audience – about 200 community and state leaders working on broadband access for Minnesota – was eager to hear Nolan’s declaration and responded with clapping – polite but still enthusiastic, for a conference that has focused more on ideas than applause lines.
Nolan spoke Friday at the “Border to Border” conference, sponsored by the Blandin Foundation and the Minnesota Office of Broadband Development.
This summer Nolan introduced legislation that would create a Rural Broadband Administration within the Department of Agriculture – similar to the agencies in the Rural Utilities Service that helped build out phone and electric service in the first half of the 20th century. The bill has been assigned to committee (Nolan sits on the Ag Committee) but has no co-sponsors, according to GovTrack.us.
Nolan’s proposal would pull together different broadband programs currently serving rural communities and would “put Congress on record that we are going to supply the resources to make this thing happen,” Nolan said. “We do have the wealth and we do have the resource to do this thing. And make no mistake about this, [investing in broadband] will pay for itself.”
Nolan, a member of the Democrat-Farmer-Labor Party, was elected to Congress in 2012 after a 30-year break since his last term in the U.S. House of Representatives. He serves a large and rural district that runs from midstate to the Canadian border, including the Iron Range and the city of Duluth.
A critic of U.S. foreign policy, Nolan said one way America could pay for building out broadband would be to stop spending money on “nation building” in regions like the Middle East and spend more on domestic infrastructure.
“We have been the beneficiaries of the greatest advances in technology in history,” he said. “Now it’s our turn to contribute to the future by investing in high-speed internet service for everyone in America.”