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President Trump will commit to improving internet access in rural areas

But the White House doesn’t have many specifics to share.

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President Donald Trump will commit on Wednesday to improving internet access in the country’s hardest-to-reach rural areas as a part of his forthcoming push to improve the nation’s infrastructure.

Trump will outline his pledge during a speech in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, shortly after visiting Kirkwood Community College, which specializes in fields like precision agriculture. In the eyes of the White House, farmers can’t use emerging big data tools that track crops in real time without faster, more reliable broadband internet service — so the Trump administration intends to tackle that challenge as part of its campaign to upgrade the country’s roads and bridges.

“Even in American agriculture, technology is the key to better yields and more returns,” said Ray Starling, the special assistant to the president for agriculture, trade and food assistance, on a Tuesday call with reporters. Those farmers in the coming years will have to learn “not only how to turn a wrench,” Starling said, “but also how to write code and rewire circuit boards.”

But Starling did not offer any specifics as to how Trump planned to improve broadband in the country’s agricultural heartland. For months, the White House has touted its interest in spurring internet adoption, without any detail — and on Tuesday, Starling only noted that the “conversation is relatively high-level,” as it would come down to “whatever Congress sees as the best solution there.”

Asked by Recode if that included additional federal spending, Starling acknowledged that “we know we will have to invest monetarily in this area, but we are still hoping we can leverage other dollars and other investment,” particularly from the private sector.

The announcement comes as part of Trump’s so-called “tech week,” a five-day focus on ways to modernize the federal government. After the president’s speech in Iowa, he will return to Washington, and his administration will convene another round of tech experts on Thursday to discuss emerging tech fields, like drones and the Internet of Things.

“The president will see demonstrations of how these technologies will contribute to the 21st century economy and how the government can ensure that their safe adoption leads to the best possible outcomes for the American worker and American businesses,” said press secretary Sean Spicer at his briefing Tuesday.

As with many of the items on Trump’s tech agenda, however, the president might face immense difficulty tackling broadband access as part of infrastructure reform.

Some members of Congress — many in Trump’s own party — are already skeptical of a major, high-cost federal infrastructure bill. Others have been particularly vocal about devoting more government resources to broadband projects. And many GOP lawmakers served as the sharpest critics of other federal attempts to improve the country’s internet access, including a rural-facing broadband effort at the Department of Agriculture, which repeatedly has been cited for mismanagement.

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