WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is taking the first steps to release $45 billion to ensure every U.S. citizen has access to high-speed internet by about 2028, inviting governors and other leaders Friday to review the application process to start.
Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo is overseeing the distribution and said universal access to broadband internet would be akin to rural America’s electrification in the 1930s, a recognition that the internet is a utility that US citizens need to thrive in today’s economy function.
“There are more than 30 million Americans who don’t have internet,” Raimondo said. “And in this day and age, 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.”
The funding is part of the $65 billion for broadband in the $1 trillion infrastructure package that President Joe Biden signed into law last November. This bipartisan package is one of the policy takeaways the Democratic president is trying to sell voters ahead of the midterm elections, though it’s unclear how much resonance the message will have when much of the country focuses on high inflation, cultural differences and political identity .
Former President Donald Trump has dismissed infrastructure spending as “fake” even though broadband spending was one of his own priorities. Its Department of Agriculture said in 2020 it had invested $744 million in rural internet connectivity, a sum that was sensible but insufficient.
Raimondo travels to Durham, North Carolina. She 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 be given $5 million to consult with residents and write their plan.
The Department of Commerce recognizes that internet needs vary by state. The money could be used to install fiber optic cables, build Wi-Fi hotspots, or even lower monthly fees where price is the main challenge. Following the government’s announcement Monday that it would provide a $30 monthly subsidy to low-income households, Raimondo noted that states could use the extra money from those programs to make the service free for some users.
Allocations would also be impacted by the Federal Communications Commission this fall, which is releasing new maps detailing where people don’t have internet service or are underserved. Governors and other executives would then have six months to use that data to formulate their final motions. States and eligible territories are guaranteed a minimum of $100 million, although the average payment would be closer to $800 million, according to the Department of Commerce’s rough estimate.
The goal is for states to establish a five-year timetable to provide full internet access while ensuring affordable internet access and encouraging competition among providers. The federal government has not defined what is considered affordable as this can vary across the country depending on the cost of living.
The trade secretary said she has seen on her travels the impact universal internet availability could have on people.
She said she spoke to a widower in rural South Carolina whose late wife was only able to see a doctor regularly via telemedicine, but they lacked a high-speed connection. Raimondo spoke to a college student in Atlanta with a full-time job who had to drive back to campus to do her homework for the internet, leaving the student so exhausted that she fell asleep at the wheel and was involved in two car accidents.
“You’re closing the digital divide and you’re closing the opportunity divide,” Raimondo said, “and we’re actually delivering on the American promise of giving everyone a shot at a good job, an education, and healthcare.”