Digital Divide: Democratic candidates’ broadband proposals
Monadnock Ledger-Transcript | By Ben Conant | October 10, 2019

The Democratic presidential candidates polling highest as they make their case for the 2020 nomination have all addressed America’s rural broadband infrastructure issues in one way or another, bringing it into the election cycle conversation. From better serving students to close the so-called “homework gap” for those with limited access at home, to deeming broadband a necessary emergency resource, the candidates all have their own approach to the issue. Here, we’ll lay out some of their proposals.

Elizabeth Warren

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), leader of Tuesday’s latest Quinnipiac poll, proposed the most far-reaching broadband proposal of the leading candidates, an $85 billion federal grant program to massively expand broadband access across the country, overseen by an Office of Broadband Access.

“I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford,” Warren wrote in a Medium post announcing the plan. “That means publicly-owned and operated networks – and no giant ISPs running away with taxpayer dollars.”

The program would put federal funds in the hands of municipalities, allowing them to build their own public internet infrastructure. Providers would have to supply 100 Mbps upload and download speeds as well as a discounted option for low-income customers.

Warren’s plan also includes measures to restore net neutrality and get rid of ISP monopolies, and sets aside $5 billion to expand broadband for tribal nations on Native American land.

“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,” Warren wrote. “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.”

Bernie Sanders

The independent senator from Vermont rallied for broadband access in Vermont for years and brought that issue with him to the national stage as well. His plan, couched in the Green New Deal, also involves infrastructure grants – $150 billion worth – for small communities to develop publicly owned broadband infrastructure and universal internet access, categorizing it as a both a method to battle climate change and a public emergency preparedness necessity.

“Internet access and communications are key in the wake of a disaster,” Sanders’ statement on the Green New Deal reads. “In order to ensure that communities get the help they need, we will provide $150 billion in infrastructure grants and technical assistance for municipalities and states to build publicly owned and democratically controlled, co-operative, or open access broadband networks. This communications infrastructure will ensure first responders and communities are ready to deal with the worst climate emergencies.”

Sanders said he’d “ensure access to high-speed broadband internet to every American” and “build resilient, affordable, publicly owned broadband infrastructure.”

The measures, he said, would pay for themselves over 15 years, via money raised through taxation after the creation of 20 million Green New Deal jobs, a scaled-back military no longer deployed to protect international oil interests, and shifting taxation onto large energy companies, among other things.

Joe Biden

The former Vice President’s “Biden Plan for Rural America” includes a $20 billion investment in rural broadband infrastructure as well as tripling Community Connect broadband grants through the USDA.

“High-speed broadband is essential in the 21st Century economy,” Biden’s proposal reads. “Yet far too many rural communities still don’t have access to it. Rural Americans are over 10 times more likely than urban residents to lack quality broadband access. At a time when so many jobs and businesses could be located anywhere, high-speed internet access should be a great economic equalizer for rural America, not another economic disadvantage.”

Biden has not specifically explained how he’d pay for these initiatives but has focused on closing tax loopholes for billionaires when discussing his plans to fund health care and other vital issues.

Pete Buttigieg

The mayor of South Bend, Indiana recently visited the region not long after rolling out his “Internet for All” initiative, which promises expanded access to “all currently unserved and underserved communities” by the end of his first term.

The $80 billion dollar plan would also “invest in promising technologies, such as next generation wireless, commercial satellites, and smart infrastructure, to ensure that rural America’s competitive revival extends through the next generation,” his proposal reads.

In Hancock this summer, Buttigieg said he’d raise the money for the plan through a combination of a competitive marketplace for the improved internet access and taxation.

”The $80 billion we believe would be required to deliver on that promise, about half of it would be raised through spectrum options, by making certain kinds of bandwidth available that we’re going to need anyway from a communications perspective,” Buttigieg said. “But we should also be willing to have a tax code that reflects the needs that we have.”