If Elizabeth Warren is elected president, she’d look to set up an $85 billion grant program to support expanding broadband access, especially in rural and Native American areas, she said in a Wednesday post on Medium.
The grants would cover 90% of the cost of installing broadband, and 100% on Native lands, but they’d only be available to nonprofits, government agencies, and rural utility cooperatives. Those member-owned cooperatives were first established during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, to build out electric and telephone service in rural areas. Now such areas often similarly lack high-speed internet service.
Warren wrote that she’d also seek to federally override state laws that limit local governments’ powers to set up municipal broadband networks. Such restrictions exist in 26 states, she writes. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission, then led by a Democratic majority under President Obama, attempted to overturn some such state laws, but courts ruled the agency hadn’t been granted authority by Congress to do so.
Some of the Republican commissioners, who now hold a 3-2 majority on the FCC, have been more skeptical of public broadband, with commissioner Michael O’Rielly denouncing the networks late last year as “flirting with a perverse form of socialism” and a potential threat to free speech.
Warren said she’d take other steps to boost broadband competition, including banning landlords from signing exclusive deals with telecom companies and simply collecting better data on what broadband service is available where.