High-Speed Internet for All – Bernie Sanders

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Today, high-speed internet is central to the basic functions of families, students, and businesses. Small businesses often cannot exist without it. Access to health care often depends on it. Yet across the country, huge swaths of the population lack access to an internet connection or cannot afford the options available. Millions lack any internet provider in their area and tens of millions are trapped with only one option. High prices keep internet out of reach for working families in both rural and urban areas.

High-speed internet service must be treated as the new electricity — a public utility that everyone deserves as a basic human right. And getting online at home, at school, or at work shouldn’t involve long waits, frustrating phone calls, and complex contracts and fees meant to trap and trick consumers. It should just work.

The internet as we know it was developed by taxpayer-funded research, using taxpayer-funded grants in taxpayer-funded labs. Our tax dollars built the internet and access to it should be a public good for all, not another price gouging profit machine for Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

Internet, telecom, and cable monopolies exploit their dominant market power to gouge consumers and lobby government at all levels to keep out competition. And they don’t provide service to anyone who can’t afford it, or install it in areas where it won’t make them as much money as their shareholders demand.

Their greed must end. Verizon made more than $45 billion in profits over the last two years, and last year their CEO took home more than $22 million in compensation. Comcast made more than $34 billion over the last two years and paid their CEO more than $35 million in 2018. AT&T took $3 billion from Trump’s tax cut and cut 23,000 jobs while their CEO pocketed $29 million last year. With no incentive to innovate or invest, these conglomerates charge sky-high internet prices to reap profits from consumers, and they collect government subsidies to provide service to rural households while still leaving millions of Americans unconnected.

It’s time to take this critical 21st century utility out of the hands of monopolies and conglomerates and bring it to the people while creating good-paying, union jobs at the same time. This is not a radical idea. Cities across the country deliver municipality-owned, high-speed internet to their residents, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Lafayette, Louisiana.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to deliver electricity to every home in America in 1935, a time when 90 percent of rural households lacked it. Ten years later, his promise was largely fulfilled, transforming the standard of living for millions of Americans. Farmers could finally refrigerate milk. We already know how to provide affordable, high-speed internet, but conglomerates continue to monopolize the industry and provide the country with inadequate coverage and service. Bernie fought against this monopolization in 1996, when legislation passed into law that gave free reign to monopolize markets and gouge consumers. Enough is enough. When Bernie is president, every American household will have affordable, high-speed internet by the end of his first term. This investment will provide every community the internet they need for their homes, educational systems, small businesses, health clinics, and more.

Provide Universal High-Speed Broadband Internet for All

The geographic disparities of internet access are stark: in rural communities, more than 31 percent of Americans still lack access to what the Trump FCC defines as broadband. In urban areas, low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately lack access to broadband and millions more can’t afford to subscribe to broadband services. The United States ranks just tenth of 22 in a comparison with European countries in broadband deployment.

The situation is even worse for under-resourced groups, communities of color, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. White, educated households are more likely to have broadband internet than households in communities of color. More than 80 percent of white households have home internet, compared to only 70 percent of Latino households and 68 percent of Black households. The FCC has reported that less than half of rural tribal areas have access to high-speed internet. Roughly one in four people with disabilities say they do not use the internet, and people with disabilities are 20 percent less likely to have broadband. We must end these disparities by connecting every household in America to high-speed internet, regardless of their income or zip code.

Municipalities across the country running their own internet services have proved they can deliver high-quality service at a fraction of the price of established monopolies. Cities can run their own networks just like a water or electric utility or build out an open access network to allow multiple providers to compete on price and service, rather than one or two conglomerates gouging customers and setting their own prices. Bernie believes it’s time to stop relying on profit-focused corporations to get to universal broadband. Bernie will provide the necessary funding for states, cities, and co-ops to build out their own broadband networks, and ensure all households are connected by the end of his first term.

As president, Bernie will:

  • Deliver access to high-speed broadband internet to everyone in the United States by building out the necessary resilient, modern infrastructure.
  • Provide $150 billion through the Green New Deal in infrastructure grants and technical assistance for municipalities and/or states to build publicly owned and democratically controlled, co-operative, or open access broadband networks.
    • Condition grants on strong labor, wage and sourcing standards to ensure that federal funding goes toward creating good-paying union jobs.
      • Ensure all funded projects cannot subcontract work to evade labor law through the Workplace Democracy Plan.
    • Condition grants on universal service, provisioning minimum speeds, privacy standards and affordability
    • Reform the Universal Service Fund and establish dedicated funding from general revenue to the existing programs, ending regressive contributions from providers are passed onto consumers.
    • Establish a dedicated, accelerated last-mile fund through the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service to provide capital funding to connect all remote rural households and businesses and upgrade outdated technology and infrastructure, prioritizing funding for existing co-ops and small rural utilities.
    • Set aside $7.5 billion of this funding to expand high-speed broadband in Indian Country and fully resource the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy.
  • Preempt the 19 state laws, largely written and lobbied for by internet service provider monopolies, that limit or bar municipal and publicly-owned broadband.
  • Ensure all public housing provides free broadband services to residents.
  • Ensure people with disabilities have full access to the internet.
    • Aggressively enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure the accessibility of the Internet, cloud-based applications, and internet-connected devices.
    • Ensure full Section 508 compliance, including making sure government agencies can receive ASL video calls from deaf people.
    • Ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
    • Develop regulations to expand the availability and quality of closed captioning and audio description on internet platforms.
    • Reinforce and expand the national and state equipment distribution programs for people with disabilities.
    • Reinforce and expand the availability and quality of accessible modern telecom services to ensure everyone who needs these services receives them.
  • Expand the E-Rate and Rural Health Support programs to ensure all schools, libraries, hospitals and other essential community facilities are connected equitably and affordably.
    • Provide dedicated funding to ensure these facilities on Tribal Lands are connected.

Dramatically Lower Costs

The problem goes beyond a lack of basic access to internet services. Access to high-speed internet means nothing if you cannot afford your bill. Microsoft found an estimated 163 million people in this country might not currently use the internet at minimum broadband speeds. That’s because the internet in this country costs too damn much. American consumers who are connected are forced to pay more for less. The United States ranks 10th of 28 countries in average broadband speeds and 18th out of 23 countries in fixed broadband prices, charging double the prices of many peer countries.

Only 54 percent of households with incomes below $20,000 have home internet, compared to nearly 90 percent of households with incomes above $100,000. Affordability and digital literacy are major barriers to internet usage for low-income households and seniors. The internet was invented in America. We should be the world leader in providing fast, affordable service. We must also invest in digital adoption and literacy, ensuring when affordable service is provided, all can fully utilize the benefits.

Large internet service providers have enjoyed government funding, protection from competition, and light regulation while gouging customers with some of the highest prices for service in the world. Bernie will regulate these providers like a utility. The FCC will review prices and regulate rates where necessary, ensuring areas without competition aren’t able to run up prices. We will also require providers to offer a basic plan for a regulated rate to all customers, ensuring everyone will be able to affordably connect to the internet.

As president, Bernie will:

  • Require that all internet service providers offer a Basic Internet Plan that provides quality broadband speeds at an affordable price.
    • Increase the FCC definition of minimum broadband speeds to 100mbps download speeds and 10mbps upload speeds.
    • Use broad categorical eligibility (those who qualify for SNAP, Medicaid, TANF, and other assistance programs) to fully subsidize this monthly plan for low-income households.
  • Instruct the FCC to regulate broadband internet rates so households and small businesses are connected affordably.
  • Eliminate data caps and ban throttling.
  • Protect and expand the Lifeline program to connect low-income households to the internet.
  • Provide $500 million per year for digital inclusiveness.
    • Grants will be distributed to schools, libraries, community centers, senior centers, and other community-based programs to promote digital literacy, adoption, and inclusivity.

Break Up and Regulate Internet and Cable Monopolies

Telecom and cable monopolies exploit their dominant market power to gouge consumers and lobby government at all levels to keep out competition. Just four companies control nearly two-thirds of the entire market. Prices are as much as 25 percent higher than they would be in a competitive broadband market. Large ISP monopolies report inaccurate or overstated coverage information, obscure their prices, and often don’t deliver promised speeds.

Bernie foresaw what deregulation and consolidation of cable giants would do to consumers. He was one of just a handful of Congressmembers to vote against the 1996 Telecommunications Act, arguing against the bill on the House floor:

“Mr. Chairman, this telecommunications bill cripples consumer protections and should be soundly rejected. It is being touted as pro-consumer when, in reality, it will cause inflated rates and will limit consumer choice. It is touted as pro-competition when it actually promotes mergers and the concentration of power.”

This legislation set the groundwork for the light touch regulation and monopolization of the broadband market that we see today. We will break these monopolies up and closely regulate them to ensure they are providing consumers with acceptable service, and eliminate hidden fees, surprise bills, and other consumer-gouging practices.

As president, Bernie will:

  • Use existing antitrust authority to break up internet service provider and cable monopolies.
    • Bar service providers from also providing content and unwind anticompetitive vertical conglomerates.
  • Classify broadband providers as common carriers under Title II and reinstate net neutrality regulations.
    • Work with Congress to codify net neutrality protections into law to prevent a future FCC from repealing them once again.
  • Appoint members of the FCC who will use Title II authority to promote competition, choice, and affordability for broadband service.
  • Require price transparency, advertised speed accuracy, and granular service data for large, private broadband providers.
    • Eliminate hidden fees, including surprise billing, and require internet and cable providers to clearly state the cost of service, ban unexpected rate increases, and end service termination fees.
  • Conduct a national broadband census and create a comprehensive, accurate broadband map of access, speeds, and prices.
  • Reinstate and expand privacy protection rules and work with privacy experts, racial justice activists, and other stakeholders to develop and pass a digital privacy bill of rights into law.
  • Reverse the Trump FCC’s anti-union “One Touch, Make Ready” (OTMR) policy and work with unions to replace it with regulations that allows for new providers to attach to utility poles while respecting the rights of union workers and ensuring workplace safety.

Build Resilient Communications Networks

Our outdated and dangerous national infrastructure is not ready to withstand impacts like floods, hurricanes, or wildfires. When extreme weather events hit, communities can be left without the life-saving communications tools and information they need.

In September 2017, Hurricane Irma left over a million people in Puerto Rico without power. A mere two weeks later, Hurricane Maria destroyed the island’s infrastructure and left over 3 million inhabitants without power and without communication networks. Maria knocked down 85 percent of above-ground telephone and internet cables and left nearly 96 percent of cell sites without service. The island’s damaged communication infrastructure left many without access to life-saving information. Reports have shown that Puerto Rico’s damaged communication infrastructure contributed to the staggering death toll. Today, the island’s communication infrastructure has yet to be fully repaired, a direct result of this administration’s apathy and cruelty.

In 2012, Hurricane Sandy raged through 10 states, downing one in four cell towers and leaving people with no means to communicate. As a result of the hurricane, more than 8.5 million people in 21 states had no power.

Internet access and communications infrastructure are critical to the decade of the Green New Deal, a ten-year, nationwide mobilization centered around justice and equity during which climate change will be factored into virtually every area of policy.

With our $150 billion investment in resilient, affordable, publicly owned broadband infrastructure, we willI ensure that communities stay connected during natural disasters. This communications infrastructure will ensure first responders and communities are ready to deal with the worst climate emergencies.

As president, Bernie will:

  • Perform a full review of the post-disaster response to the communications crisis in Puerto Rico and ensure broadband and telecommunications services are swiftly restored.
  • Ensure any new broadband infrastructure is resilient to the effects of climate change.
  • Require large, private internet service providers to complete a broadband resiliency review.
  • Implement “dig once” policies to build dedicated fiber conduits with all road construction and improvements projects.
  • Ensure disasters are not used by corporations to reap taxpayer-subsidized profits, and that all rebuilding funding goes to restoring service and improving resiliency.
  • Build a modern smart grid to ensure we have a resilient, secure, and intelligent electric grid system that is capable of managing high amounts of renewable energy, maximizing efficiency, and keeping our internet services up and running during the worst climate emergencies.

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