The digital divide describes the gap between people who have access to the internet and those who don’t. Those included in the divide include people who live in rural areas, as well as those in urban and suburban areas who can’t afford service. Bernie Sanders is the latest Democratic presidential candidate to propose a solution to close that divide.
On December 6, Sanders (D-Vermont) released his “High-Speed Internet for All” proposal. It would treat internet service as a utility, like electrical power, with open-access networks that have multiple providers. “We already know how to provide affordable, high-speed internet, but conglomerates continue to monopolize the industry and provide the country with inadequate coverage and service,” according to the campaign.
In 2017, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance found that over 129 million people could only access the internet through a single provider. Millions more don’t have access at all. Bringing in more companies would force them to compete on prices and services, according to the Sanders campaign. It also calls for breaking up “internet service provider and cable monopolies,” saying this would substantially lower prices as well.
The plan would also change the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband, from 25 megabits per second for download and three Mbps for upload (25/3), to 100/10. Providers would have to offer a “basic” broadband plan at “a regulated rate.” In addition, low-income households would be eligible to have their plans subsidized.
The proposal recommends offering $150 billion in grants and other assistance to states and communities to build their own “democratically controlled, cooperative, or open access broadband networks.” Some cities and towns already have municipal networks with broadband in rural areas where other internet service providers (ISPs) have been slow to enter. Chattanooga, Tennessee, for example, was the first U.S. city with a municipal, 1 gigabit-per-second fiber-optic internet service. A study from Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society showed community-owned providers had lower prices and comparable, if not better, service. However, at least 25 states have laws that block or ban such services.
Other Democratic presidential candidates have already released plans to tackle the internet access problem. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wants an $85 billion federal grant plan. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has an $80 billion Internet For All initiative, and former Vice President Joe Biden has suggested putting $20 billion into rural broadband infrastructure.
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