Biden proposes $100 billion to bring broadband to all Americans

President Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure package — “a once-in-a-generation investment in America” — on Wednesday that calls for spending $100 billion to deliver affordable and reliable broadband service to all Americans. The package also proposed a $5 billion Rural Partnership Program to support locally led initiatives to create jobs and economic growth in rural America.

“It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” said Biden during a speech at a carpenters training center near Pittsburgh. It would be “the largest American jobs investment since World War II,” said the president. “These are investments we have to make.” He proposed higher taxes on corporations for 15 years to pay for the infrastructure work, which would be spread over eight years.

The package also would modernize 20,000 miles of roads, fix 10 economically significant bridges, and repair “the 10,000 worst smaller bridges” in the country, said a White House summary. It would put $17 billion into projects affecting inland waterways, coastal ports, land ports of entry, and ferries.

“Broadband is the new electricity,” said the White House. “It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected. Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. Americans in rural areas and on tribal lands particularly lack adequate access.”

With the $100 billion requested by Biden, the administration said that “we can finally reach 100% high-speed broadband coverage throughout the country.” The proposal also would remove barriers “that prevent municipally owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge.”

Internet service costs too much, said the White House. While individual subsidies may be needed in the short term, it said, a long-term solution is needed to “reduce internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in both rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable, and save taxpayer money.”

“We’re encouraged to see electric co-op priorities reflected in President Biden’s infrastructure proposal,” said the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “Equally important is support for expanded rural broadband and other efforts to help rural families and businesses.”

The Biden package would eliminate tax preferences for fossil fuels, both to help pay for infrastructure projects and to carry out Biden’s goal of putting the country on a path to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050. The pro-ethanol trade group Growth Energy said the administration “overlooks the urgent need to expand access to low-carbon biofuels, like plant-based ethanol.” Biofuel groups have called for broader use of higher blends of ethanol in gasoline than the traditional 10%.

The most recent USDA report on computer usage said that 75% of farms reported having access to the internet in 2019, and 53% said they did business over the internet. Farms most commonly used DSL and satellite connections, which run at slower speeds than cable or fiber-optic connections. But the Pew Research Center said that when it comes to having a smartphone or home broadband, there was a 10 percentage point gap separating rural adults from metropolitan adults.

The $5 billion Rural Partnership Program would be part of $300 billion used to revitalize manufacturing and small businesses.

The 25-page White House summary is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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