Not everyone in the US has access to the internet, and that’s largely because the internet service providers that govern these systems are money-hungry, discriminatory, and, frankly, evil. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a plan to strip some of that power away from ISPs through the creation of publicly-owned broadband.
On Wednesday, Senator Warren published a Medium post—My Plan to Invest in Rural America—which included a breakdown on how she hopes to develop a public alternative to internet access. The plan intends to help communities most often disenfranchised by costly and geographically-limited broadband access. These include low-income households as well as rural and poor neighborhoods.
Warren’s plan involves a few moving parts. First, she wrote that she would pass federal legislation that would allow municipalities to build their own broadband networks. Second, she would create an Office of Broadband Access under the Department of Economic Development to oversee an $85 billion federal grant program that builds out the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet. Electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profits, tribes, cities, counties, and state subdivisions are the only groups that can apply for these funds, emphasizing the push to bring these systems into areas presently underserved.
Warren wrote that the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost of construction for these grants and that institutions that receive this funding will have to provide public internet to every home in the stated area. What’s more, these grant recipients will also have to have at least one discounted plan. There will also be $5 billion dedicated to grants for tribal nations, specifically to bring broadband internet to Native American lands and build out thousands of miles of internet infrastructure on these lands that are, to date, unserved.
For fiscal hawks, Warren briefly outlined her plan to pay for the initiative, writing:
The cost of each and every one of these investments is fully offset by my plans to make the ultra-wealthy and large corporations pay more in taxes. Those plans include my annual two-cent wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million and my plan to ensure that very large and profitable American corporations can’t get away with paying zero taxes. And the new investments I’m announcing today for universal broadband access and health care options in rural areas can be offset by changing the tax laws that encourage companies to merge and reduce competition.
The plan also extends beyond simply providing funds and construction for broadband internet, it also details a number of ways in which Warren will crackdown on shitty and unjust ISP practices. She said that she’ll appoint FCC Commissioners dedicated to the restoration of net neutrality and transparency around broadband maps—they will require ISPs to submit reports related to internet service, speeds, and aggregated pricing, which will then be made public and regularly audited. The plan also involves ramping up the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy and passing the Digital Equity Act, both of which invest time and money into bridging the digital divide.
“I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford,” Warren wrote in the post. “That means publicly-owned and operated networks — and no giant ISPs running away with taxpayer dollars.”