8h | Alan Burkitt-Gray
Prominent US politicians in the Democratic Party are calling for spending of US$94 billion on improving rural internet coverage.
Senator Amy Klobuchar and Representative Jim Clyburn have tabled a bill to give high-speed internet access to communities that are unserved or underserved.
“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for all Americans,” said Klobuchar (pictured).
“In 2021, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code. This legislation will help bridge the digital divide once and for all.”
Klobuchar is a close ally of President Joe Biden, and was the person who planned the inauguration ceremony for Biden and Vice-president Kamala Harris in January.
Clyburn, who is the Democratic Party’s whip in the House of Representatives, said: “Access to broadband today will have the same dramatic impact on rural communities as the rural electrification efforts in the last century.”
The Washington Post described their proposed Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act as “one of the most expensive, ambitious broadband packages proposed in recent years”.
Clyburn said: “When I formed the Rural Broadband Task Force, our mission was to address the digital divide. The disparate effects of that divide have been amplified during the Covid-19 pandemic and exposed the urgency of ensuring universal access to high-speed internet.”
The proposed legislation includes $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure across the US plus
$5 billion over five years for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan programme.
Klobuchar and Clyburn propose that the funding should be overseen by a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
In addition $6 billion will be added to the Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund, which provides a $50 monthly discount on the internet plans for low-income people anywhere in the US, or $75 for consumers on tribal lands.
The Federal Communication Commission (FCC) will be told to collect and publicise data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the US.
Klobuchar and Clyburn also want states to spend $1 billion to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as on digital inclusion projects, and $2 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning. And they call for funding for Wifi on school buses.
The legislation received immediate support from a number of Democratic Party members of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senator Elizabeth Warren said: “Our current public health and economic crisis has made it all the more urgent that we get affordable, high-speed broadband to every home and business in our country. Congress needs to pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act to ensure every family can access school, work, and health care through the internet.”