High-speed internet is no longer a luxury but an “absolute necessity, US President Joe Biden said on Monday said as he pledged that every household in the nation would have access by 2030 using cables made in the United States.
“These investments will help all Americans,” he said. “We’re not going to leave anyone behind.”
Biden announced that more than US$40 billion would be distributed across the country to deliver high-speed internet in places where there’s either no service, or service is too slow.
“But it’s not enough to have access – you need affordability and access,” the president said, adding that his administration is working with service providers to bring down costs on what is now a household utility – like water or gas – but often remains priced at a premium.
With Monday’s announcement, the administration is launching the second phase of its “Investing in America” tour. The three-week blitz of speeches and events is designed to promote Biden’s previous legislative wins on infrastructure, the economy and climate change going into a re-election year. The president and his advisers believe voters don’t know enough about his policies heading into his 2024 re-election campaign and that more voters would back him once they learn more.
Biden’s challenge is that investments in computer chips and major infrastructure projects such as rail tunnels can take a decade to come to fruition. That leaves much of the messaging focused on grants that will be spent over time, rather than completed projects.
The internet access funding amounts depended primarily on the number of unserved locations in each jurisdiction or those locations that lack access to internet download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download and upload speeds of 3 Mbps. Download speeds involve retrieving information from the internet, including streaming movies and TV. Upload speeds determine how fast information travels from a computer to the internet, like sending emails or publishing photos online.
The funding includes more than US$1 billion each for 19 states, with remaining states falling below that threshold. Allotments range from US$100.7 million for Washington DC, to US$3.3 billion for Texas.
Biden said more than 35,000 projects are already funded or under way to lay cable that provides internet access. Some of those are from US$25 billion in initial funding as part of the ‘American Rescue Plan’.
“High-speed internet isn’t a luxury anymore,” he said. “It’s become an absolute necessity.”
More than seven per cent of the country falls in the underserved category, according to the Federal Communications Commission ‘s analysis.
Congress approved the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, along with several other internet expansion initiatives, through the infrastructure bill Biden signed in 2021.
Earlier this month, the Commerce Department announced winners of middle mile grants, which will fund projects that build the midsection of the infrastructure necessary to extend internet access to every part of the country.
States have until the end of the year to submit proposals outlining how they plan to use that money, which won’t begin to be distributed until those plans are approved. Once the Commerce Department signs off on those initial plans, states can award grants to telecommunications companies, electric cooperatives and other providers to expand internet infrastructure.
Under the rules of the program, states must prioritise connecting predominantly unserved areas before bolstering service in underserved areas – which are those without access to internet speeds of 100 Mbps/20 Mbps – and in schools, libraries or other community institutions.
Hinging such a large investment on FCC data has been somewhat controversial. Members of Congress pressed FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel about inaccuracies they said would negatively impact rural states’ allotments in particular, and state broadband officials were concerned about the short timeline to correct discrepancies in the first version of the map.
The second version of the map, which was released at the end of May and used for allotments, reflects the net addition of one million locations, updated data from internet service providers and the results of more than three million public challenges, Rosenworcel, who in the past has been a critic of how the FCC’s maps were developed, said in a statement in May.