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Biden plans to spend $100bn to bring affordable internet to all Americans

Joe Biden’s massive infrastructure bill will prioritize broadband expansion as a top goal, earmarking $100bn to bring affordable internet to “all Americans” by 2029.

The plan, details of which the White House released in a fact sheet on Wednesday afternoon, seeks to reach “100% high-speed broadband coverage” across the US. It will do so while prioritizing broadband networks “owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and cooperatives” in a clear rejection of partnerships with big tech firms.

After Covid-19 forced many Americans to work and attend school from home, the disparities between Americans with and without reliable access to internet have become more visible, the Biden administration said, citing “a stark digital divide”.

“The last year made painfully clear the cost of these disparities, particularly for students who struggled to connect while learning remotely, compounding learning loss and social isolation for those students,” the administration wrote.

Biden’s $2tn plan addresses four major categories: transportation and utility grids, broadband systems, community care for seniors, and innovation research and development. The proposal would be paid for by permanently raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, according to sources cited by Politico.

The administration seeks to bring broadband to the 35% of rural Americans who lack access to internet at minimally acceptable speeds, calling it the “electricity of the 21st century” and comparing it to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which sought to bring electricity to every home in the US.

The billions in broadband funds include money set aside for building internet infrastructure on tribal lands, which will be created in consultation with tribal communities, the administration said. Civil rights and internet freedom advocates celebrated the announcement on Wednesday.

“The President’s broadband announcement is a win for every family and business in America, in every part of the country,” said James P Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense, a nonprofit digital advocacy group. “Broadband for all is a policy whose time has come.”

The $100bn dedicated to broadband dwarfs funds proposed in other bills addressing the digital divide. Earlier in March, James E Clyburn of South Carolina and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota announced their own bill that would invest $94bn to close the digital divide. That bill was widely endorsed by human rights groups.

In a statement on Wednesday, House speaker Nancy Pelosi praised the bill’s “significant” investment plan for broadband access and said she was hopeful the bill would see support from Democrats and Republicans.

“Investments in infrastructure have long been bipartisan, and in that spirit, we hope to craft and pass a historic package to Build Back Better: creating jobs, justice and opportunity for all,” she said. The Guardian

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