Microsoft Inc. (MSFT) President Brad Smith said on Thursday that the well-known gap in computer skills and education is not the only major technology problem the U.S. faces.

The other is lack of access to broadband, particularly in rural areas. According to Smith, who was speaking at the Collision tech conference in New Orleans, there are at least 25 million Americans who lack access to broadband, and 19 million of them are in rural counties.

"Let's face it -- broadband has become the electricity of our age," Smith said. "You cannot participate in the 21st century economy and all the opportunities it provides, unless you have access to broadband."

Smith noted that in these rural areas, it's not a question of affording broadband -- there simply is no broadband access for them to buy.

Increasing rural access to broadband is actually one of the benefits that Sprint (S) and T-Mobile  U.S. (TMUS) have touted about their proposed merger. In response to a question from TheStreet about whether the proposed tie-up would improve rural broadband access, Smith said he didn't know yet.

"Obviously it was just announced and I think we'll all have the opportunity to learn more, and the agencies in Washington D.C. both at the FCC and on the antitrust side will be evaluating it," said Smith. But Smith did offer a general thought about what might help address the longstanding problem.

"Fundamentally, I think for the future of telecommunications in this country, we have to figure out what will close these broadband gaps, both in cities and in rural areas," Smith said. "We should question everything we've been applying when it comes to public policy and private sector action."

For its part, Microsoft has partnered with a number of telecom companies in the U.S. to increase access to broadband, and has called for a national broadband goal of closing the rural gap completely by 2022.

"This will build on and require the use of hybrid technology, it will require investment by the public sector and will require new kinds of partnerships," Smith said in his speech.

Other large technology companies, such as Facebook (FB) and Alphabet's Google (GOOGL) , have also embarked on ambitious plans to increase internet access around the world, knowing that such access is a prerequisite for using their services.

Smith also talked a significant amount about the digital divide in computer science skills in the U.S., calling for more schools to offer and require computer science education and for more teachers to be trained to teach it.

"What we need to build, what we are building, is a national movement for computer science education," Smith said.

Smith compared the movement to significantly increase access to computer education and to broadband to movements earlier in the U.S. to make public education free to everyone in the early 19th century, and to Franklin Delano Roosevelt's move soon after taking office to give every American access to electricity.

"It's a new technological age," Smith concluded.

Microsoft, Facebook, and Alphabet are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer buys or sells MSFT, FB or GOOGL? Learn more now.

More from Markets

Oil Prices, China Tariffs, Micron and Kohl's - 5 Things You Must Know

Oil Prices, China Tariffs, Micron and Kohl's - 5 Things You Must Know

China Slashes Auto Import Tariffs as Trump's Trade Push Gets Big Early Win

China Slashes Auto Import Tariffs as Trump's Trade Push Gets Big Early Win

Global Stocks Push Higher as China Tariff Move, Softer US Dollar Boost Sentiment

Global Stocks Push Higher as China Tariff Move, Softer US Dollar Boost Sentiment

U.S. Crude Oil Hits Fresh 3-Year Highs as Gas Prices March to $3 a Gallon

U.S. Crude Oil Hits Fresh 3-Year Highs as Gas Prices March to $3 a Gallon

Video: When Planning for Retirement, Don't Underestimate Your Life Span

Video: When Planning for Retirement, Don't Underestimate Your Life Span