In August, presidential candidate and senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) proposed spending $85 billion to expand high-speed internet access in rural America and other underserved communities. Senator and rival presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) thinks that’s not enough. Friday, he offered his own $150 billion broadband plan that goes far beyond connecting rural communities to the internet.
Sanders wants to break up large media and telecommunications giants, force companies to make internet services more accessible to people with disabilities, and regulate broadband prices to ensure affordability. He says he will treat internet service as a human right.
“Just as President Roosevelt fundamentally made America more equal by bringing electricity to every farm and rural community over 80 years ago, as president, I will do the same with high-speed internet,” Sanders said in a statement.
Other Democratic front-runners have broadband plans, but Sanders’ is more radical—and expensive—than his rivals’. Former vice president Joe Biden has called for $20 billion to expand broadband infrastructure in rural America, and wants to triple funding for rural broadband access programs. South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg touts an $80 billion “Internet for All” plan and promises to restore net neutrality. But Sanders’ call for the Federal Communications Commission to cap broadband prices goes beyond even Warren’s relatively expansive plan, which aimed to achieve affordability by increasing competition in the broadband market.
Like Warren, Sanders says he will appoint FCC commissioners who will classify broadband providers as “common carriers,” like traditional phone services, as they were during the Obama administration. That would give the FCC authority not only to restore the net neutrality rules that the FCC jettisoned in 2017 but to regulate rates as well, something the Obama-era FCC declined to do. Sanders’ plan would require broadband providers to offer “Basic Internet Plans” at set “affordable” rates. He also wants to ensure free broadband to public housing residents.
Sanders’ plan would ban internet service providers from also providing content. Under his plan, both AT&T, which owns Time Warner, and Comcast, which owns NBC-Universal, would presumably have to separate their roles as access providers and content producers. Warren told The Verge that she wants to split Comcast and NBC-Universal and said she opposed AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner.
The FCC has already spent billions on programs like Connect America Fund, which helps pay for broadband infrastructure in underserved communities, and the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes access to telecommunications services, but Sanders and Warren argue that too much of the money from these programs go to large, for-profit carriers. Sanders wants to expand funding for municipal, nonprofit, and cooperatively owned broadband providers through the Green New Deal and calls for the funds to go toward creating union jobs, echoing Biden’s infrastructure plan.
Citing outages following Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Maria, and the threat of climate change, Sanders also wants both new and existing internet and telecommunications infrastructure to stand up to natural disasters.
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