By Senator Catherine Cortez Masto 

During my tour of Nevada’s rural counties in November, I had the honor of sitting down with business owners, community leaders and families across Nevada and learning more about the unique challenges rural Nevada faces. Whether we were talking about broadband or health care, public land management or affordable housing, one thing I consistently heard about was the need for better communication and coordination between federal agencies and rural stakeholders.  

Nevadans work every day with many federal agencies that help maintain our public lands, protect our environment, and fund transportation and innovation projects across the state. Yet, too often, Nevada’s rural residents, business owners and ranchers are held back by confusing permitting processes, inadequate funding or lack of cooperation between agencies. 

This past Congress, I wrote legislation co-sponsored by Republican Senator Rob Portman of Ohio creating a Council on Rural Community Innovation and Economic Development. This legislation was passed into law in last year’s Farm Bill. This law helps agencies work across executive departments and offices to streamline the work of programs supporting rural communities. A separate working group on rural broadband integration was also created in order to help identify and address regulatory barriers and report on improvements needed to programs working to further rural broadband deployment throughout the federal government. 

The creation of this collaborative council is the first step in ensuring that all federal agencies with rural priorities communicate and share expertise and resources. Greater inter-agency coordination will allow for the efficient use of federal tools and resources to strengthen regional economies by helping to cut through bureaucratic red tape, increase the impact of federal dollars and accelerate the formation of new businesses that create good-paying jobs. In addition, by December 2019, this council will be required to submit a report describing efforts undertaken by rural areas to integrate “smart” innovative technology into their communities to solve local challenges relating to energy, transportation, health care, law enforcement, housing, and a host of additional issues. 

The “Rural Broadband Integration Working Group” will be an additional, separate platform to foster cooperation between federal agencies and private businesses looking to create new high-speed broadband infrastructure. I’ve also organized a rural broadband workshop with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to be held in Carson City in the coming months. This workshop will bring federal agencies, state and local representatives, non-profits and community leaders together to discuss ways to improve cooperation and coordination between agencies and help close Nevada’s digital divide. Access to reliable, affordable broadband is crucial for our rural communities in helping create economic growth, creating jobs, providing educational opportunities, and delivering health care to geographically remote areas.  

As we look forward to a new Congress, I’ll continue working on bipartisan priorities for our rural communities that ensure federal resources and oversight efforts are directed towards the projects that will best help rural communities across Nevada thrive.