What the $ 65 billion broadband service plan will do

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(AP) – The Senate’s $ 1,000 billion two-party infrastructure plan includes a $ 65 billion investment in broadband that the White House says “will provide reliable, affordable and high-speed internet to every home “.

He may not succeed, but it is a big step in that direction. Broadband funding is a “big down payment” on the Biden administration’s ambitious goals to connect all Americans and make the Internet more affordable, said Matt Wood, broadband policy expert at consumer advocacy group Free Press. Critically important is the $ 14 billion to help low-income Americans pay for the service.

The “digital divide” – the persistent gap in the United States between the haves and have-nots of broadband – became glaring during the pandemic as school, work and healthcare moved online. Tens of millions of people do not have access to the Internet or, if they have access to a local telephone or cable company, cannot afford to pay for it.

More sweeping industrial changes planned in the Biden administration’s initial $ 100 billion plan, such as promoting alternatives to dominant telephone and cable industries and hinting at price regulation, have not survived. bipartisan negotiations on a bill that was to attract Republican support. Among the big winners of the bill, in fact, are these same Internet service providers.

The “digital divide” – the persistent gap in the United States between the haves and have-nots of broadband – became glaring during the pandemic as school, work and healthcare moved online. Tens of millions of people do not have access to the Internet or, if they have access to a local telephone or cable company, cannot afford to pay for it. (KEYC News now)

The Senate passed the $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill Tuesday 69-30, with support from Democrats and Republicans. The House is expected to consider it in September.

THE DIGITAL DIVIDE

The Federal Communications Commission says about 14 million Americans do not have broadband access at the speeds needed to work and study online – 25 megabits per second downloading and 3 Mbps downloading – but admits their cards are faulty . Outside groups made higher estimates.

Telephone and cable companies have no incentive to build Internet infrastructure in rural areas, where customers are more sparse and they may not get their money back. This is traditionally where government subsidies to industry come in: around $ 47 billion for rural internet from 2009 to 2017, and an additional $ 20 billion for rural broadband over the next decade and so. $ 9 billion more for high-speed wireless internet known as 5G in the clear. populated areas.

But there are also tens of millions of people today who have access to the internet and just don’t register, mostly because they can’t afford it, in cities and areas alike. remote. The National Urban League estimates that number at 30 million homes.

FOCUS ON AFFORDABILITY

The Senate bill would provide about $ 14 billion for a monthly benefit of $ 30 that helps low-income people pay for the internet, extending an emergency program during a pandemic.

“What makes this historic is the emphasis on affordability,” said Jenna Leventoff of Public Knowledge, who advocates for more funding for broadband. The bill, if it becomes law, “will help a lot of people who would not have been able to log on otherwise.”

An existing program, known as Lifeline, aimed to help address this affordability problem previously. But it only provides $ 9.25 per month, which doesn’t go far for internet plans. He has also been the target of Republicans, who say they have problems with fraud and abuse.

Industrial groups have also pleaded for a permanent advantage of broadband. Broadband companies, if they choose to participate, will gain additional customers. The program is “a plus for all ISPs,” said Vijay Jayant, analyst at Evercore ISI.

The law directs the FCC to create rules designed to protect consumers from businesses that may cause them to subscribe to more expensive services in connection with the benefit and against other “unfair and unreasonable” practices.

MONEY FOR NETWORKS

The bill provides about $ 42 billion in subsidies to states, which in turn will route it to ISPs to expand networks where people don’t have good internet service. Companies that take this money will have to offer a low cost service option. Government regulators will approve the price of this service.

The bill requires internet projects to be delivered with minimum speeds of 100mbps down / 20 up, a big step up from current requirements. But some advocates fear it’s still too slow, and argue that the federal government may still have to spend much later to rebuild networks that fall short of future needs.

Cable companies are also happy that the funding is primarily dedicated to areas that currently do not have broadband service. Some advocates hoped the government would step in and fund competition for cable so people had more choices. Others saw it as a waste.

The Biden administration’s initial plan promised to promote networks of local governments, co-ops, and nonprofits as alternatives to for-profit telephone and cable companies. Under the current Senate plan, these groups are not given priority, but they can still get money from the states for the networks. The telecommunications industry lobbied against municipal networks; around 20 states restrict them.

Senate negotiators also left language loopholes around an attempt to end the so-called ‘digital red line’ – when telecom companies provide improved internet service in wealthier neighborhoods. in town but leave others without good service. The bill states that the FCC must create rules to end this practice, “as far as is technically and economically possible.” But the only reason telecommunications leave some areas with poor service is that those neighborhoods aren’t as profitable, Leventoff said.

The strength of these requirements will depend on what the FCC does. The agency is however paralyzed. The White House has not appointed a permanent president, and the FCC lacks a third Democratic commissioner who would allow it to deal with controversial issues.

Yet industry groups and supporters of expanding internet access both say the legislation should help attract more people online.

“This bill will not increase choice or lower prices for everyone. But it’s not the right measure, ”said Wood. “It will make real broadband internet much more affordable for millions of people who cannot afford it today, and faster networks will be available to millions more.” It’s a big problem.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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