We don’t often talk politics here at The Tech Report, but we do spend a lot of time on the internet. And that makes a new blog post from Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) particularly interesting. In that post under the “A Public Options for Broadband” section, Warren explains the two prongs of her proposal. First, make internet access more equitable for people with low income and in rural areas. Second, make access more competitive for ISPs who aren’t as big as the gigantic telecom companies.
Warren’s broadband proposal
Warren says that under her $85 billion plan, she’ll to ensure “every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford.” Warren notes that at least 25% of people living in rural areas and tribal lands don’t have access to internet that qualifies as basic broadband. With how inaccurate the FCC’s broadband maps are, the figure is likely even higher.
The subsidy program would work through an Office of Broadband Access, and the plan would address both speed and competition. This isn’t a government-run ISP, though. Instead, Warren wants to provide the subsidies to smaller telecom businesses, co-ops, and organizations. The grants would help them to compete with big ISPs in ways they can’t right now.
To lay fiber in a new area, the ISP has to offer two plans. A 100 Mbps up/100 Mbps down plan for speed, and a discount option for low-income customers. The idea here is that previous broadband subsidies have seen telecoms lay down minimal wire to qualify for a subsidy meant to pay for a lot more. The dual-plan requirement ensures that neither robust service nor low-income customers are ignored.
“[The ISPs] have deliberately restricted competition, kept prices high, and used their armies of lobbyists to convince state legislatures to ban municipalities from building their own public networks,” Warren writes. “Meanwhile, the federal government has shoveled billions of taxpayer dollars to private ISPs in an effort to expand broadband to remote areas, but those providers have done the bare minimum with these resources — offering internet speeds well below the FCC minimum.”
Net neutrality is a big deal for Warren, too (and something we’ve been talking about since way back). Warren wants to appoint FCC commissioners that support net neutrality under Title II, work for more accurate versions of those broadband maps we talked about, and push back against anti-competitive moves; Warren cites landlords making deals with private ISPs on their properties as one example of this.
A few caveats
These all sound like interesting ideas. The sheer size of companies like Comcast and Verizon makes competition from smaller telecoms almost impossible. It also allows those big companies to push for legislation to make such competition—even from municipal ISPs—even more difficult. Bringing other companies into the mix would provide competition and access, and with those, speed and reliability would likely follow.
The biggest hurdle to this is that Warren wants to use federal legislation to help this along; this move historically sees heavy opposition.
It also goes without saying that these are election promises from a presidential hopeful. That she’s laying these out so prominently so early on is a good sign, though. This could push lacking access into the limelight during presidential debates as we head into 2020.