If you live in rural America today, you are much less likely to have high speed internet than if you live in an urban part of the country.
Presidential hope Elizabeth Warren – who seems to have a plan for everything – has released a new plan today to solve this problem.
Warren’s broadband plan would provide $ 85 billion in federal money to subsidize the construction of broadband networks in rural communities. Warren’s proposal is a big deal. Currently, the FCC only provides approximately 4.6 billion dollars per year for the development of broadband in rural areas, and the Rural Utilities Service distributes $ 800 million per year in loans and grants.
Warren’s plan addresses the deep digital divide in the United States, where about 39% of Americans in rural areas do not have high-speed internet access, compared to 1.5% of Americans in urban areas, according to the FCC. This is largely because building broadband networks in large swathes of rural America is expensive. Major for-profit Internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T and Comcast, have no financial incentive invest infrastructure in sparsely populated areas. And local efforts to build municipal, not-for-profit or small-scale networks have been stifled by competition from large telecommunications companies.
Under Warren’s proposal, the president would create a broadband access office under the Department of Economic Development that would oversee the administration of the $ 85 billion in grants.
Warren’s plan would also do the following:
- Use federal law to protect the rights of local governments to build their own municipal broadband networks rather than relying on private ISPs.
- Grant funding only to “electricity and telephone cooperatives, nonprofits, tribes, towns, counties and other subdivisions of the state” – and not to major for-profit ISPs – that build fiber infrastructure for broadband in rural communities.
- Require groups that receive this federal funding to subsidize their services to low-income households.
- Set aside $ 5 billion specifically for tribal nations to expand broadband access to Native American lands. Native Americans are considered among the least connected residents to the Internet in the United States – nearly half of Native Americans living on reservations or other tribal lands do not have broadband access, according to the US Census Bureau.
- Try to improve the accuracy of broadband cards. As Recode’s Rani Molla reported, ISPs have vastly underestimated the extent of the rural-urban broadband divide. Warren says she would appoint FCC commissioners who would force ISPs to provide better reports on this.
- Name FCC commissioners who support Net Neutrality.
Warren joins other 2020 candidates who have mentioned expanding broadband access, but his plan is, so far, the most detailed.
Joe Biden Said He Would invest $ 20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure, and triple the amount of funding to expand broadband access in rural areas. Amy Klobuchar also did increase internet access at the center of his campaign, promising to connect all American homes to high-speed internet by 2022. Bernie Sanders also said that it would guarantee broadband access to all Americans. But neither Biden, Klobuchar, nor Sanders provided as many details as Warren on how they would accomplish this.
Last May, President Trump released two decrees It is easier for private companies to create Internet networks in rural areas by reducing government red tape and granting companies access to public infrastructure. However, these initiatives did not address the biggest financial hurdle the establishment and operation of the development of broadband.
There is also a ditch in the availability of mobile cellular networks for rural Americans versus urban Americans. Warren’s plan doesn’t directly address this, but it’s easy to see how some of these ideas could be passed on to mobile internet providers as well.