Election 2020 State Democratic presidential candidates’ policies to expand broadband in rural America By Nolan Cramer Posted on February 6, 2020 8 min read 0 0 226 CNN and New York Times Democratic Presidential Debate Otterbein University Westerville, Ohio 2019. Photo courtesy of The New York Times and CNN Lack of reliable broadband access is an issue that continues to plague southeast Ohio. As the state’s Democratic primary approaches, the leading candidates have shared their plans to expand broadband access in rural areas across the country. The Buckeye Hills Regional Council –– an assembly of governments committed to improving the lives of residents in southeast Ohio –– completed a rural broadband study in 2019 in collaboration with Ohio University and the Athens County Economic Development Council. The study found that “between 80% and 90% of households in the ‘rural expanse’ have no access to broadband service.” The rural expanse represents any area in the country with 20 or fewer households per square mile. The vast majority of the areas studied did not meet the minimum internet speeds set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The Buckeye Hills Regional Council determined that it would cost $500 million to connect all of the underserved rural households and business within the region to the internet. Here are the broadband expansion policies proposed by all five leading Democratic candidates vying for their party’s nomination. Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg –– the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana –– laid out his plan for broadband expansion in his policy titled “A Commitment to America’s Heartland.” If elected, Buttigieg would “invest in new ways to more accurately map which communities lack broadband or wireless in partnership with the private and nonprofit sectors,” according to the campaign’s website. Buttigieg plans to invest in community-based options to ensure broadband is expanded if private companies fail to cover a region. This would involve establishing a “Broadband Innovation Incubator” office to help develop community-owned broadband options and encouraging Congress to pass legislation that embraces broadband development. Sen. Bernie Sanders: Sanders’ “High-Speed Internet for All” policy would enable affordable, high-speed internet by the end of his first term. The plan would allow low-income Americans who qualify for social safety net services like SNAP and Medicaid to have a fully subsidized basic internet plan. One point in Sanders’ plan requires all internet service providers (ISP) to offer a basic internet plan, while also raising the FCC’s minimum broadband speeds to 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. The senator also plans to make the FCC regulate broadband companies to eliminate data caps and ban ISPs from systematically reducing customers’ internet speeds when they exceed their data cap. Additionally, the policy provides $500 million per year for digital incentives to be distributed to community-based programs that promote digital literacy. “ Sen. Elizabeth Warren: Warren outlined ideas for broadband expansion in her plan titled “Investing in Rural America,” which would ensure all Americans have affordable broadband connection. Her plan would create a federal statute that gives municipalities the right to construct their own broadband networks. She would also establish an “Office of Broadband Access” in her Department of Economic Development, which would manage a $85 billion federal grant program designed to expand broadband access. Improving the accuracy of broadband maps is also one of the points in Warren’s plan. The campaign alleged on its website that weak FCC oversight allows ISPs to exaggerate how many households they serve. Former Vice President Joe Biden: “The Biden Plan for Rural America,” states the former vice president’s plan is to triple funding for broadband to expand rural access. Biden’s plan is relatively brief compared to the other Democratic front-runners. It summarizes his plan to invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure which “has the potential to create more than a quarter million new jobs.” Additionally, Biden would “triple ‘Community Connect’ broadband grants and partner with municipal utilities.” Sen. Amy Klobuchar: “Amy’s Plan to build America’s Infrastructure” lays out Klobuchar’s plan to “connect every household to the internet by 2022.” That includes “creating accurate broadband maps to identify areas that lack adequate access.” She would focus on building high-speed internet to connect areas that need it most. Her plan also provides financial incentives for ISPs to upgrade networks to cover rural communities. “Broadband creates jobs, opens new economic opportunities and allows America to compete and succeed in an increasingly digital world,” according to Klobuchar’s plan. President Donald Trump: In January 2018, Trump released a statement on how he is “working to rebuild rural America.” “Too many rural Americans do not have necessary broadband access needed to engage in the modern economy,” he said. In April 2019, he spoke about the lack of broadband access in rural areas and the importance of building 5G cell networks across the country. “To ensure rural America is not left behind, the FCC aims to create a new $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund that will extend high-speed broadband to 4 million homes and small businesses,” Trump said.