Under Secretary Xochitl Torres Small on expanding access to rural broadband | The TechTank Podcast

Dave Wallace, owner of Silica Broadband, pulls fiber cable few foots at a time as he finishes the 82000 foot in order to provide internet to one of his clients in rural Louisville, Kentucky, U.S., April 19, 2021.  REUTERS/Amira Karaoud

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed in 2021 dedicates $65 billion for broadband funding which could be integral in closing the digital divide, particularly in rural areas. According to a Pew research survey from 2021, those who live in rural areas continue to be disproportionately affected by the digital divide, falling behind their urban counterparts by five percent in terms of home broadband access and by nine percent in terms of smartphone access.

Various barriers continue to complicate rural Americans’ ability to get online, from a lack of widespread data on where broadband assets exist, to accurate depictions and data on how residents of these areas are adversely affected by the lack of high-speed internet and utility breakdowns.

On this episode of TechTank, host Nicol Turner Lee is joined by Xochitl Torres Small, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Under Secretary for Rural Development. In this role, she champions rural people by helping small towns access the funding they need to make their communities more livable through infrastructure improvements, affordable housing, and modernizing essential facilities like schools, hospitals, health care centers, and public safety stations. Together, they discuss ongoing work to close the urban-rural digital divide, how IIJA funding has helped the USDA expand programs such as the ReConnect program, and how the USDA has been working to meet different communities’ hyperlocal needs.

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TechTank is a biweekly podcast from The Brookings Institution exploring the most consequential technology issues of our time. From artificial intelligence and racial bias in algorithms, to Big Tech, the future of work, and the digital divide, TechTank takes abstract ideas and makes them accessible. Moderators Dr. Nicol Turner Lee and Darrell West speak with leading technology experts and policymakers to share new data, ideas, and policy solutions to address the challenges of our new digital world.