Trump taps Ken Johnson to serve as Rural Utilities Service administrator

Plowing fiber optic cable in Northwest Kansas (Image: Rural Telephone via USDA Flickr stream)
Rural utilities expert Ken Johnson is taking on the task of nationwide rural broadband expansion. (Image: Rural Telephone via USDA)

President Donald Trump has named appoint Kenneth Johnson to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS) Administrator, reflecting another move in his proposed rural broadband agenda.

Ken Johnson, Co-Mo Utilities (Image: Moniteau County Regional Economic Development Council)
Kenneth Johnson (Image: MRED)

Johnson comes to the role with plenty of experience in addressing rural broadband and utility issues.

He currently serves as general manager and CEO of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative and president for Co-Mo Connect in Tipton, Missouri. Co-Mo has deployed a FTTH network to all its members without using federal or state funding, providing gigabit internet, video, and voice services to about 16,000 subscribers

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Besides his role at Co-Mo, Johnson is a director and past president for Central Electric Power Cooperative, a director for the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives and has served on the executive and legislative committees. Johnson was general manager for Twin Valleys PPD in Nebraska after beginning his career with the Nebraska Public Power District.

“As President Trump pursues his comprehensive agenda of infrastructure improvements like increased broadband access for rural communities, adding Ken Johnson to the USDA team is exciting,” said Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, in a statement. “Ken’s experience with rural utilities, including real success in expanding access to high-speed internet, will serve us well as we strive to increase prosperity across rural America.”

Johnson’s appointment also garnered praise from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who just released the regulator’s latest broadband progress report and touted the mission of expanding rural broadband availability.

“Ken’s selection to serve as Rural Utilities Service Administrator is a great sign for rural America,” Pai said in a statement. “As the general manager and CEO of Co-Mo Electric Cooperative, Ken has been on the front lines of bringing high-speed internet access to unserved areas.  Co-Mo Electric has built out a modern fiber-to-the-home network to all its members, so Ken understands how transformative this technology can be.  I look forward to working with Ken to close the digital divide—my top priority as FCC Chairman and one on which the Department of Agriculture has made much progress under Secretary Perdue’s leadership.”

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of rural telco association NTCA that represents about 850 cooperative-based service providers, also welcomed Johnson.

“While much progress has been made in deploying broadband-capable networks, much work remains to be doneand we must also sustain those networks already in place for the benefit of rural consumers and communities,” Bloomfield said. “Given Mr. Johnson’s rural industry experience, we are eager to work with him on these efforts and to ensure continued efficient and coordinated use of resources across the various RUS programs and the many other federal initiatives aimed at both promoting and sustaining rural broadband.”

A key question about his appointment is how he will forward President Trump’s recent presidential orders to enhance rural broadband coverage and availability.

The first of these two orders instructs the Department of Interior to dedicate a portion of its assets for rural broadband installation. The second order will streamline the network installation process by requiring agencies to use standardized forms and contracts for installing antennas on federal buildings.