Biden backs $100 billion to close digital divide

The money would provide broadband to roughly 30 million people and prioritize affordability for families in rural, urban and tribal areas

Workers in rural Colorado work on a cellular tower.  (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Workers in rural Colorado work on a cellular tower. (Denver Post via Getty Images)
Posted March 31, 2021 at 1:01pm

President Joe Biden on Wednesday proposed investing $100 billion in an effort to make high-speed internet available throughout the country and affordable for every American.

Likening the investment to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which brought power to farms and country towns throughout the heartland as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the administration said the investment would provide broadband to roughly 30 million people living in unserved or underserved areas and prioritize affordability for families in rural, urban and tribal areas alike.

The $100 billion for broadband is part of a $2 trillion infrastructure package that Biden will outline in a speech in Pittsburgh at 4:20 p.m. Wednesday.

To achieve coverage everywhere, especially rural areas where larger providers often decline to operate because of a lack of profit, the administration is proposing prioritizing subsidies for networks affiliated with nonprofits, local governments and electric cooperatives — “providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities,” according to an outline of the plan.

[Next infrastructure bill aims to end ‘digital divide’]

The proposal would also prioritize “future proof” internet speeds to avoid building out networks that will be quickly outdated and deployment of broadband networks on tribal lands, the outline said.

To achieve 100 percent affordability, the administration signaled that Biden would continue to support short-term subsidy programs approved by Congress to connect families during the pandemic but will ultimately seek a long-term solution that would lower the cost of internet service.

“Continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers,” the outline said. “Americans pay too much for the internet — much more than people in many other countries — and the president is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans.”

The $100 billion plan puts Biden mostly in lockstep with congressional Democrats who have proposed similarly sized packages but far from a possible compromise with Republicans who say broadband in unserved areas should cost closer to $20 billion.