Earlier this morning, Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a paper detailing a proposed $85 billion grant to bring high-speed internet to unserved and under-served areas in rural America. A federal statute would grant that money only to non-profits, local governments, and tribes to build their own fiber infrastructures without interference from major ISPs, like Charter and Comcast, or the states themselves.
As Senator Warren points out in her paper, smaller towns and tribes have turned to municipal networks in the past to bring high-speed internet to their communities. But 26 states have since passed laws banning them from doing so. Instead, the federal government has continuously thrown money at giant ISPs as an incentive to expand service to those rural areas, but those companies have either done nothing or only offered internet speeds below the currently defined FCC minimum of 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps, usually in the 10 Mbps range.
To put that into perspective, about 24 million Americans, or eight percent of the population, do not have access to high-speed internet. That amounts to 26.4 percent of people living in rural areas and 32.1 percent of people living on tribal lands, according to the FCC—but that number may actually be higher.
The approval of these grants would be managed through a newly created federal office as part of Senator Warren's Department of Economic Development, the Office of Broadband Access. That office would pay 90 cents on the dollar toward constructions costs. As part of the deal, all applicants would have to offer at least one plan with 100 Mbps / 100 Mbps speeds and meet other requirements. $5 billion of that grant will be set aside solely for tribal nations.
Additionally, Senator Warren wants to improve the accuracy of broadband maps, prohibit landlords from making deals with private ISPs to offer a limited number of choices within their properties, and appoint FCC commissioners who will restore net neutrality.
Several other Democratic presidential candidates, like Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Former Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have also laid out similar plans, but none as detailed as Warren's.
On August 1, the FCC voted to create the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which would establish a $20.4 billion rural broadband investment fund. However, Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, has called it an extension of the Connect America Fund, and said that it will not be enough to provide those 24 million rural Americans with high-speed internet access.
Thanks, The Verge.