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Want to close America’s rural-urban divide? Digital infrastructure is the key.

Published by The Washington Post on February 20, 2019

By Jam Spectar 

In his State of the Union speech earlier this month, President Trump touched briefly on an area where he and Democrats could easily make common cause for the sake of the country: infrastructure. Yet by skipping over the details he missed an important opportunity to connect his rhetoric of greatness to something tangible, impactful and transformational.

The omission is particularly striking when you consider what the right kind of infrastructure program could do for rural America, a core part of Trump’s base. While metropolitan America surges forward, rural areas continue to be riven by an onslaught of demographic decline, loss of manufacturing jobs, rising poverty, opioid abuse, blight, insufficient capital, anemic investment, poor infrastructure and an abysmally low participation rate in the global digital economy.

Urgent infrastructure needs are placing a severe drag on the prospects of rural America and deepening the rural-urban divide. These communities desperately need school renovations, upgrades to water and sewage treatment systems, and improved transit to metropolitan centers.

Such improvements will, of course, take plenty of time, effort and money. But there’s one area where decisive action could have positive effects relatively quickly: the digital economy. The dearth of broadband Internet connectivity is the bane of many rural areas, exacerbating demographic decline by contributing to out-migration of millennials and loss of business opportunities.

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