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Biden plan to spend $ 100 billion on ‘future-proof’ high-speed internet – ‘the new electricity’

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SAN FRANCISCO (UKTN) – The problems with America’s broadband networks have been evident for years. The service costs more than in many other wealthy countries, it still does not reach tens of millions of Americans, and the companies providing it do not face much competition.

Now, the Biden administration is vowing to do something to address all of these issues as part of its proposed $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure package. The plan, which would spend $ 100 billion to connect all Americans, is more of an idea than a policy and lacks many important details.

But it sketches a striking new take on activist government measures to improve broadband Internet service, after decades in which the government has largely left the work to private companies.

WHAT IS BIDEN’S PROPOSAL?

It would spend $ 100 billion on ‘future-proof’ broadband as part of an eight-year infrastructure plan, calling broadband connections the ‘new electricity’ that is now a necessity for all. Americans. (For history buffs, this is a reference to the Rural Electrification Act – a Depression-era law that accelerated the extension of power lines to farms and rural communities. )

This could signal a major policy shift towards reducing the high cost of Internet service, rather than simply handing over money to broadband providers for networking. “Americans are paying too much for the Internet,” the plan says bluntly.

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It pushes for more competition that could lower prices by encouraging and supporting networks owned or affiliated with local governments, cooperatives and non-profit organizations. Currently, around 20 states restrict municipal broadband. Prioritizing these networks could give them a head start when the government distributes money to expand the service.

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“The most important thing about what President Biden did in the proposal is that he redefined the digital divide,” said Larry Irving, a senior telecommunications official in the Clinton administration. “Just recognizing that poverty is a more important indicator of lack of access than geography is a huge statement.”

It is unclear how the Biden administration plans to achieve this.

WHY IS THIS NECESSARY?

The pandemic has made it clear that millions of Americans are not online, a problem that is not limited to rural areas but also includes cities. The White House says more than 30 million Americans have no high-speed internet access at all and millions more cannot afford it.

The divide persists even after the government has spent billions to encourage broadband providers to connect remote and often isolated communities. From 2009 to 2017, federal spending on these programs totaled $ 47.3 billion, according to a government monitoring report. An additional $ 20 billion is forecast over the next decade for rural broadband, and an additional $ 9 billion for high-speed wireless internet known as 5G in sparsely populated areas. Billions more were sent to broadband thanks to the three massive relief programs implemented during the pandemic.

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America’s rural internet policy has been a perennial mistake, said Gigi Sohn, an Obama-era FCC official. “Much of what we have is very slow,” she says. The White House now says it wants “future-proof” networks “in unserved and underserved areas,” so that they don’t have to be rebuilt years later because they are. obsolete.

Exactly what these terms mean for what’s being built and where isn’t clear either, and many Republicans object to federal funds working in areas that have internet even though it’s slow – which is what this is called “excessive construction”.

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WILL THE CONGRESS SUPPORT THIS PLAN?

The $ 2.3 trillion infrastructure plan has its critics. Some Democrats are disappointed because they wanted more. On the other hand, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called him a “Trojan horse” for tax hikes.

Internet access is a bipartisan issue, but Republican leaders on the House and Senate trade committees have called Biden’s approach to wasting broadband.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, a Republican-ranking member of the House Energy and Trade Committee, said Biden’s plan “would hurt private investment in our networks without bridging the digital divide.” . She called for reducing regulations on construction infrastructure to help speed up investment. Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi, a Republican-ranked member of the Senate of Commerce, said the proposal “opens the door to duplication and overbuilding.”

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Congressional Democrats recently introduced their own major broadband legislation, including a $ 94 billion bill from Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, the House Majority Whip, who both said they approved of the White House’s approach.

WHAT DOES BIG BROADBAND SAY?

Republicans’ concerns echo those of the industry. Cable lobby group NCTA said the White House “is in danger of taking a serious wrong turn … by suggesting that the government is better positioned than private sector technologists to build and operate the Internet.” The NCTA has also expressed concern about price regulation. The Biden document does not mention price controls.

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of lobbying group USTelecom, said prioritizing government-owned broadband investments is “exactly the wrong approach” since taxpayers will be paid the bill if such networks fail. He also claimed that broadband prices are already falling.

The Ministry of Labor said prices for phone services, which include internet plans and phone service, have fallen by about 7% over the past decade. Internet service costs, which include items such as web hosting, increased 2%. A think tank with a lot of tech industry funding, New America, says prices are higher in the United States than in Asia and Europe.

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