Recently, South Dakota residents have benefited greatly from public-private partnerships that have provided important investment in the farming industry of our state. As a rural state, agriculture and technology play significant roles in the economic development and livelihood of South Dakotans. Since the rural nature of our state limits access to affordable broadband connectivity, public-private partnerships for investment is important. That’s why we should be encouraged by the Trump administration’s announcement last month of a $20.4 billion “Rural Digital Opportunity Fund” to help create these networks. But like all policy issues, the devil is in the details, and there is a reason to be concerned.
Currently, a group of foreign satellite companies have proposed a plan to privately sell 5G space that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has licensed to them for free. Their plan, if approved by the FCC, would leave rural states like ours struggling from a deepening “digital divide.”
There are current efforts being made by farming industry leaders to improve efficiencies through the use of improved technology. These efforts are at risk if the FCC approves the foreign satellite companies’ plan. Last year, South Dakota State University broke ground on the construction of the Raven Precision Agriculture Center, positioning South Dakota as a national and global leader in precision agriculture. Technology in agriculture allows farmers to use less product and spend less time in the field while increasing yields. The future of agriculture depends on rural accessibility to broadband technology.
The C-Band Alliance (CBA), made up of these foreign companies, is pressuring the FCC to allow them to sell the spectrum in a closed, private sale, the massive profits would be tucked into their pockets. Previously, the FCC has overseen open auctions to distribute spectrum space, while creating billions in revenue for the U.S. Treasury and ensuring the public interest is protected.
In a recent summary, Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) discussed the CBA’s plan in detail. They concluded there is “no guarantee taxpayers would see any of the revenues generated from the sale and there would be limited FCC oversight.”
Foreign interests would profit by as much as $60 billion on an American resource for which they paid nothing; American taxpayers would see no return on their investment; and the alarming “digital divide” will only increase.
According to the FCC, 35% of the nation’s rural residents – roughly 22 million Americans – have no access to broadband, while less than 5% of urban residents lack access. Providing access to rural communities has a great effect; however, it is expensive and difficult to deploy due to the remote nature of these areas. The cost to provide broadband access to rural Americans is hundreds of billions of dollars, a cost no one has committed to cover. This has had wide-ranging consequences, given that education, healthcare, agriculture, and economic development are dependent on access to broadband.
An open, public auction of the C-Band spectrum, supervised by the FCC, would demonstrate their commitment to rural Americans and ensure that every person who wants Internet access can get it. A redistribution of the spectrum would provide rural America with fair access to digital technology and 5G deployment.
I urge Senators Thune and Rounds to insist the FCC deny the CBA’s plan to profit on an American resource that they paid zero dollars to access. Their plan would leave U.S. taxpayers and rural Americans behind.