Adelstein Nominated to Head USDA’s Rural Utilities Service

By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson


Jonathan S. Adelstein, a member of the Federal Communications Commission, will be President Obama’s nominee for Administrator of the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS), formerly the Rural Electrification Administration. The nomination requires approval by the Senate.

Before he came to the FCC in 2002, Adelstein was a Senate staffer for 15 years, the last seven spent advising Sen. Tom Daschle on matters including telecommunications. In the bio announcing the forthcoming nomination, the White House press office says on the FCC Adelstein “ led efforts to improve rural telecommunications and broadband.”

According to The Rural Blog, Adelstein has called broadband “the skeleton key” to economic opportunity. That’s encouraging, but a rather ambiguous article on the xchange web site raises questions about Adelstein’s dedication to hooking up unserved rural communities. That article quotes industry analyst Tom Nolle of CIMI Corporation. It’s hard to tell how much of this is Nolle’s opinion and how much is Nolle’s opinion about Adelstein’s opinion.

When the concept came along, the industry, meaning tech networking and some others including Adelstein of the FCC, were kind of of the view that the objective of the broadband stimulus should be to create parity in broadband between the U.S. and other market areas. And that parity is not created by attempting to touch underserved areas. There are, in fact, pretty significant data points that suggest that a lot of the so-called underserved areas are underserved because they don’t want to be served. So it’s not clear how much additional, incremental broadband penetration we would achieve even with a program that aggressively went after everybody that didn’t have [broadband] now.

The xchange interviewer cites a study by Pew Internet saying that 51 percent of those who are not yet connected to the Internet aren’t interested. Apparently, that 51 percent is assumed to include rural people who have never had the opportunity to link up. I doubt that’s the case.

On the other hand, Congress Daily reported on March 23,

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein, who was tapped by President Obama to head the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, said today a $417 million pilot program for awarding health information technology grants to rural areas is not advancing quickly enough. The FCC effort, unveiled in late 2007, has 37 projects at various stages of vendor selection and 69 total, but only one to date has been funded, he said. “We need to make sure rural areas have access on par with urban centers. It’s going to take ingenuity and important planning from our government,” said Adelstein, who made his remarks at an event sponsored by the New America Foundation and the wireless industry trade group CTIA.

Health information technology via Internet is not the same as residential Internet broadband, but if you’re going to have hospitals and doctors’ offices hooked up, you may as well let home users in, too. Let’s hope that’s Adelstein’s orientation, and that Nolle was putting words in his mouth where they don’t belong.

RUS controls $2.5 billion of the $6.5 billion appropriated for rural broadband. The Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) gets $4 billion, of which $1 billion is to expand wireless telephone service.

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