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The Reluctant Regulator: The Rural Utilities Service and American Broadband Policy

Presenters Name: 
Mark Duemmel
Co Presenters Name: 
Primary Research Mentor: 
Christopher Ali
Secondary Research Mentor: 
9:30 - 10:15
Time of Presentation: 
2019 - 9:30am to 10:15am
Newcomb Hall Ballroom
Presentation Type: 
Presentations Academic Category: 
Social Science
Grant Program Recipient: 
USOAR Program

This research works to investigate the role of the Rural Utilities Service – a division of the US Department of Agriculture – in rural broadband policy and deployment. Through regulatory efforts dating back to the electrification of rural America, the Rural Utilities Service has been given the unique power to exert heavy influence over rural broadband policy. However, through comprehensive stakeholder analysis and thematic content analysis, this research suggests a very unstable relationship between the Rural Utilities Service’s use of their power as a stakeholder in the complex landscape of rolling out the internet to under-connected rural America. These results are based on the Rural Utilities Service’s long periods of action within the policy arena, followed consequently by long periods of inaction. This ebb and flow of action within the policy arena suggests an unstable relationship with the policy itself and with other stakeholders within the field. For this instability, we have labeled the Rural Utilities Service as “The Reluctant Regulator.” As 39% of rural Americans still lack proper internet speeds, it is imperative to clarify and substantiate the role of the could-be powerful Rural Utilities Service.