WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is taking first steps to unlock $45 billion to ensure every U.S. resident has access to high-speed Internet by around 2028, urging governors and other leaders on Friday to start the nomination process.
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo is overseeing deployment and said that universal broadband Internet access would be similar to the electrification of rural America during the 1930s, a recognition that the Internet is a necessary utility for US residents to function in the today’s economy.
“There are more than 30 million Americans who don’t have the internet,” Raimondo said. “And nowadays without high-speed internet, you can’t go to school, you can’t go to the doctor, you can’t do simple things. Think about how many times a day you google something or go online.
Funding Part of $65 Billion for Broadband in $1 Trillion Infrastructure Package which President Joe Biden signed into law last November. That bipartisan package is one of the political gains the Democratic president is trying to sell to voters ahead of the midterm electionsthough it’s unclear how much the message will resonate when much of the country focuses on high inflationcultural differences and political identity.
Former President Donald Trump has dismissed infrastructure spending as “phony” even though broadband spending was one of his priorities. His Department of Agriculture said in 2020 that it invested $744 million in rural internet connectivity, a significant but insufficient sum.
Raimondo is on his way to Durham, North Carolina. He will announce that governors can send their letters of intent to receive the broadband money, which comes from three programs totaling $45 billion. Each state would then get $5 million to help him consult with residents and write his plan.
The Department of Commerce recognizes that Internet needs vary by state. The money could be used to lay fiber-optic cables, create Wi-Fi hotspots, or even reduce monthly fees in places where price is the main challenge. Following the administration’s announcement Monday that it would provide a $30 monthly benefit to low-income families, Raimondo noted that states could use the extra money from these programs to make the service free for some users.
Allocations would also be affected by the Federal Communications Commission this fall which will release new maps detailing where people have no or underserved Internet service. Governors and other leaders would then have six months to use this data to shape their final questions. Eligible states and areas are guaranteed a minimum of $100 million, though the average payout would be closer to $800 million, according to rough estimates from the Commerce Department.
The goal is to have states set a five-year timeline to provide comprehensive Internet access, while ensuring affordable Internet access and promoting competition among providers. The federal government hasn’t defined what qualifies as affordable, as it could be different across the country based on the cost of living.
The Commerce secretary said she has seen the impact that the universal availability of the internet could have on people as she travels.
He said he spoke to a widower in rural South Carolina whose late wife could only see a doctor regularly through telehealth, but lacked a high-speed connection. Raimondo talked to an Atlanta college student with a full-time job who had to return to campus for the Internet to do her homework, leaving the student so exhausted that she fell asleep at the wheel and was in two car accidents.
“Close the digital divide and close the gap of opportunity,” Raimondo said, “and we actually deliver on America’s promise to give everyone good jobs, education, and health care.”