Biden’s infrastructure plan requires $ 100 billion to repair broadband internet –

Biden’s infrastructure plan requires $ 100 billion to repair broadband internet

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President Biden’s $ 2 trillion US employment plan infrastructure proposal used a broader definition of infrastructure than most people tend to associate with the word. He took over everything from roads, pipes, and electricity to climate change, union jobs, and inequality.

It also provided $ 100 billion to America’s digital infrastructure, with the noble goal of providing all Americans with the affordable and reliable high-speed Internet access they need to participate in today’s economy. The plan lacks details for now, but the vast majority of that money will go toward building high-speed broadband connections for the millions of Americans who don’t already have them. There are also provisions on promoting competition and lowering prices. Biden called broadband internet “the new electricity,” comparing the need for a federal initiative to bring it to all Americans to the Rural Electrification Act of 1936.

If you’ve been paying attention, Biden’s focus on bridging the digital divide should come as no surprise. He called for “universal broadband” during his campaign on his Build Back Better plan. He appointed Jessica Rosenworcel, who as Commissioner of the FCC has been championing affordable broadband Internet for years, as Acting President of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

By the way, Rosenworcel’s response to Biden’s plan? “I’m inside.”

But it is also a huge and complicated undertaking that the United States has been trying to accomplish for years, under three (now four) presidencies. The exact number of Americans who do not have access to broadband infrastructure varies based on several factors, including the maps you use to count them and what your definition of reliable high-speed Internet is. Biden put the number at 30 million. And that number doesn’t include the millions of Americans who have broadband Internet access but can’t afford it, making that access pointless.

The issue of affordability has become even more obvious and problematic during the pandemic. Legislators had to fight to help low-income people gain access to the Internet through various subsidies and stimulus bills, while the FCC essentially had to beg ISPs not to cut back. Americans if they couldn’t pay their internet bills. However, those are not permanent solutions and they still weren’t enough for some. Biden’s plan also wants to help those people.

“When I say affordable, I mean it,” Biden said in a speech announcing the plan. “Americans pay too much.”

Advocates for universal broadband access and affordability have praised the plan.

“It is a serious effort to achieve digital equity for all Americans, address overrated Internet service, and implement greater transparency and accountability,” Willmary Escoto of Access Now, a nonprofit digital rights organization, told Recode. “The American Jobs Plan moves the US toward a new digital future, one in which every individual in America has a fair chance of success.”

Gigi Sohn, a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Institute of Law and Technology Policy, said in a statement that Biden’s plan was notable not only for its ambition but also for “the message it sends: that broadband, like electricity, is a necessity and that one cannot participate in our economy, our education and health systems and our society without it … The United States cannot afford to be a country of those who have and those who do not have digital technology ” .

“President Biden’s $ 100 billion infrastructure plan recognizes an important fact about broadband today: it is an essential service, like water and electricity, and our public policy must reflect that fact,” Greg Guice, director of government affairs for the open Internet advocacy group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the administration and members of Congress as they seek to pass this bold initiative to bridge the digital divide.”

The fact sheet released by the Biden administration does not go into detail beyond saying how much money Biden wants to invest and, in general, what it expects the return on that investment to be: high-speed broadband access coverage and “on trial.” Of future”. the whole country; more competition among providers, including municipally owned plans and cooperatives; and reduced costs.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) saying that the Biden plan was based on the Accessible and Affordable Internet for All Act, which she and Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC) introduced in their respective homes last year and reintroduced last month.

That bill grants $ 80 billion to broadband infrastructure, requires service providers using networks built on top of that infrastructure to offer affordable service plans, and provides an additional $ 6 billion to the Emergency Broadband Benefits program. . It will also make it easier for local governments, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives to establish their own networks that could compete with traditional for-profit service providers, which, in many areas, remain the only real choice for consumers.

“The coronavirus pandemic exposed and exacerbated many long-standing flaws that must be fixed if the United States is to retain its greatness,” Clyburn told Recode. “In addition to repairing many of our nation’s flaws, the American Employment Plan wisely protects against the emergence of additional flaws in the future.”

Anna Read, senior research officer for the broadband access initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts, told Recode that the federal government should seek state and local broadband access programs, which Read believes will be the key to implementing the vision. of Biden.

“The states have really been at the forefront on this issue for the past few years,” Read said. “They have been investing significant state dollars and expanding broadband access. … Increasingly, states are also beginning to consider affordability. “

While the Biden plan promises a lot, delivering on it will be a different matter. Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump had big goals to connect America. None of them delivered, and millions of Americans paid the price for that failure when the pandemic uncovered just how far behind the United States is.

Scott Wallsten, president and senior fellow at the Institute for Technology Policy, said there are too many unknowns right now to say whether Biden’s plan will be the one to reverse that trend. After all, if connecting everyone in America was easy, it would have been done by now. You expect the plan to provide experimentation and analysis to see where and why people aren’t connecting, rather than just throwing money at a problem and assuming that will solve it. He sees a lot of places where this could go wrong or be a waste, but he said there are reasons to be optimistic as well.

“What I think is good is that people are really paying attention to the digital divide and its consequences in a way that never before,” said Wallsten. “We look at the problems and the inequalities and what can happen as a result … I think, for once, those people are really visible.”

“This is a significant infrastructure challenge, but it is also an affordability challenge,” Read said. “Addressing the two together will be very important in closing the digital divide.”

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