If elected U.S. president, Joe Biden has big plans. In addition tackling climate change, reforming the criminal justice system, and providing universal health care, Biden aims to restore net neutrality rules and get rid of laws that block municipal broadband, or internet access that’s provided fully or partially by local governments. He outlined the plan in a task force document drafted with Bernie Sanders.
“As millions of Americans have stayed at home to prevent the spread of the pandemic, it is plain to see that in the 21st century, the internet is not optional: It is a vital tool for participating in the economy, and all Americans need access to high-speed, affordable broadband service,” the Biden-Sanders unity task force said in the document released July 8.
As Multichannel News notes, Biden has already committed to a $US20 ($29) billion investment in rural broadband if elected president, but also plans to increase federal support for municipal broadband and “increase public investment in rural broadband infrastructure and offer low-income Americans subsidies for accessing high-speed internet through the Lifeline program,” the task force said.
A Biden administration would also restore the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to punish internet service providers that block access, throttle internet speeds, offer paid prioritisation, or other things that “create artificial scarcity and raise consumer prices.” Due to the repeal of net neutrality, this has started to take shape in various forms. For instance, AT&T is offering a free HBO Max subscription only to its customers due to the carrier’s recent acquisition of the media giant. While Biden won’t have direct say over the rules and laws the FCC implements, he will get to choose the chairman. So it’s likely that current FCC chairman Ajit Pai will be removed and replaced with someone whose vision of the internet aligns more with Biden’s goals.
Access to reliable internet has become even more of a concern now that much of the country is either working from home or attending school remotely. According to Pew Research, about 20% of adults in the U.S. who live in rural areas are totally reliant on their smartphones for internet access as of 2019. In urban areas, that percentage drops to 17%, and falls even further to 13% in the suburbs. Black (23%) and Hispanic (25%) households are also disproportionately affected compared to white (12%) households. While the chart does not provide data on school-aged children, it’s likely that many of those households also have children, which means those kids also lack reliable access to broadband internet.
A bill currently making its way through the California legislature will, if passed, require the California Advanced Services Fund program (CASF) to provide reliable internet to households that are in unserved areas and unserved high-poverty areas. This would pave the way for municipal broadband across the state of California and create much-needed competition, as certain cities or areas in certain cities only have access to a single internet service provider. Biden’s goal as president would be to do this on a national scale.
We’ll find out more about Biden’s official platform at the Democratic National Convention slated to kick off Aug. 17.