President Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan includes $100 billion to bring high-speed broadcast Internet to every home in the United States. The need for broadband became especially acute during the COVID-19 pandemic in which working, learning and shopping became largely remote. Although the digital divide was first identified during the Clinton administration, multiple government efforts to bridge it thus far have been unsuccessful. Biden also vowed to drive down prices for Internet to make it affordable for everyone.
The New York Times reports that Blair Levin, who directed the FCC’s 2010 National Broadband Plan, called the current plan “a vision document that says every American needs access and should have access to affordable broadband,” noting it was a first from the White House. Biden’s plan “promises to give priority to municipal and non-profit broadband providers but would still rely on private companies to install cables and erect cell towers.”
NYT notes that, “during the electrification boom of the 1920s, private providers were reluctant to install poles and string lines hundreds of miles into sparsely populated areas.” The White House hasn’t detailed how it intends to make the Internet affordable.
National Education Association president Becky Pringle reported that, “about 25 percent of students don’t have adequate broadband at home, with Native American, Black and Latino children hardest hit.”
In the last few months, Congress approved $10+ billion to “help make broadband more affordable and to put more laptops and other devices in students’ hands,” of which the FCC is determining how to distribute $7.2 billion “for broadband service, devices, and potentially routers and other equipment for households with school-age children.”
From Congress’ $3.2 billion for “emergency digital divide funding,” in February, the FCC gave $50-$75 broadband subsidies for low-income families. But these were one-time only funds related to the pandemic, whereas the Biden administration’s $100 billion plan targets “the 35 percent of rural homes without access.”
The White House has emphasized its focus on “future-proof” technology and “support for networks run and owned by municipalities, non-profits and rural electrical cooperatives.” But several states have banned municipal broadband networks and Republicans “even argue about definitions of broadband,” resisting faster standards.
CNET reports that the CARES Act, passed last spring, has helped states including Mississippi build broadband infrastructure via electric co-ops. But, as House majority whip James Clyburn (D-South Carolina) pointed out, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act that he and Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) introduced will do more. “Access to broadband today will have the same dramatic impact on rural communities as the rural electrification efforts in the last century,” Clyburn said.
Biden’s plan to prioritize “networks owned operated by or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives” is due to the fact that they have “less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.” His plan, which sets aside funds for tribal lands, “also calls for promoting transparency in price and competition among broadband providers.”
Biden Broadband Plan Will Be Hated by Big ISPs, Welcomed by Internet Users, Ars Technica, 3/31/21
Why Cable Hates Biden’s $100B Internet Plan, Axios, 4/2/21
With $100B Internet Plan, Biden Commits to Bring Down ‘Overpriced’ Broadband Bills, Politico, 3/31/21
AT&T Resists Plan to Bring High-Speed Fiber to Rural Homes, ETCentric, 3/31/21