Modern life is increasingly impossible to live without the internet but according to the FCC, more than 31 percent of Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband connections. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders wants to change that, releasing a lengthy $150 billion ‘High-speed Internet For All’ plan that would expand rural access to broadband, treat the internet like a public utility, as well as break up internet, telecom, and cable titans.
The lack of high-speed internet and the disparity of access is a well-known problem in the U.S. Earlier this year, Microsoft claimed that 162.8 million people, or more than half the people in the U.S., don’t have access to internet speeds of 25Mbps. Meanwhile, 24 percent of rural Americans say that access to high-speed internet is a major problem, compared to 13 percent of those who live in urban areas, and 9 percent of those in suburban areas, according to Pew Research.
At the core of Sanders’s plan are New Deal-esque grants totaling $150 billion to municipalities and states to build out infrastructure for publicly owned, cooperative, or open access broadband networks. Sanders’s site explains the $150 billion funding would come via the Green New Deal, and a condition for receiving grants would be universal service, provisioning minimum speeds, privacy, and creating union jobs (meaning no subcontracted work in attempts to take home more profit). The plan also outlines the need for hardier, more up-to-date infrastructure, pointing out that millions in lost internet and power in natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy in 2012, and Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The plan also notes it would preempt 19 state laws that limit or ban municipal or publicly owned internet, as well as prioritize community facilities like schools, libraries, public housing, and hospitals. Also, Sanders proposes setting aside $7.5 billion to bring high-speed broadband to Native American communities, on top of enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure those with disabilities are not excluded as internet-based services expand. For instance, the plan suggests expanding the “availability and quality of closed captioning and audio descriptions on internet platforms.”
Broadband affordability is another talking point for Sanders, whose plan notes that the U.S. currently ranks 18th out of 23 countries in fixed broadband prices. For that, Sanders wants to give $500 million a year in grants for ‘digital inclusiveness,’ which would promote digital literacy and adoption programs at public community centers like libraries and schools. Sanders also wants all internet service providers to provide a ‘Basic Internet Plan’ that would give a minimum of 100mbps download speeds and 10mbps upload speeds at an affordable price.
Sanders also outlines using existing antitrust laws to break up ISPs, cable, and telecom giants. Part of that plan involves reinstating net neutrality regulations, protecting net neutrality from future repeals, and classifying broadband providers under Title II as common carriers. Also included are initiatives against data caps and speed throttling, as well as banning termination feeds and surprise billing.
Sanders isn’t the only candidate to propose publicly-owned internet or holding ISPs to account. Fellow rival Elizabeth Warren also released a plan in August. Both candidates’ plans are similar, in that they seek to expand rural access to broadband, treat the internet as a public utility, and stick it to ISPs. The main difference is that Sanders’s plan is more ambitious financially—Warren’s plan proposes an $85 billion federal grant, with $5 billion set aside for Native American lands. Warren’s plan also gives a little more detail on how she plans to fund it through her two-cent wealth tax, whereas Sanders notes his $150 billion would come via the Green New Deal.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also promised to pledge $80 billion toward a publicly-owned broadband initiative, which also includes plans to restore net neutrality but much less language on busting up ISPs. Instead, Buttigieg’s plan highlights investing in public and community-based options in “regions private companies won’t cover.” Former Vice President Joe Biden also proposed $20 billion for better rural internet access but doesn’t provide much detail other than tripling Community Connect broadband grants.