Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation, sent a letter to Donald Trump asking him with a “Make America First in Broadband Again” Plan. It’s a six-point plan; I thought it was worth outlining here too:
- Extend broadband to Americans too long ignored and left behind. More than half (53 percent) of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband. The U.S. ranks 12th in the world on average Internet speeds – behind countries like Latvia. If you want America to be first, we need to set a national goal of ensuring at least 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to 100-megabit broadband by the end of your first term.
- Use broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for middle-class job growth. Broadband infrastructure investment is a proven economic dynamo and vital catalyst for middle-class job growth. As your Commerce Secretary designee Wilbur Ross put it, “Broadband is a path to the future” and “a very essential component of economic policy, altogether, including the infrastructure component.” Communities that get new access to broadband experience average job growth 6.4 percent greater than before they had broadband. In fact, studies show that every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates 13,000 jobs. Broadband infrastructure investment can set the stage for a sustained period of innovation-driven growth, and advance a more prosperous middle class by opening up new job opportunities in its construction, and new jobs in its use.
- Giving schools’ choice of broadband options to ensure no child is deprived of knowledge. Our students continue to lag behind their peers worldwide in knowledge gained – where we have let countries like China outperform us in reading, math and science.(1) One reason is that 21 million U.S. students lack access to the basic broadband infrastructure necessary to take advantage of digital learning, as Vice President Mike Pence notes, “By ensuring that high-speed Internet is available in every … classroom, we can connect Hoosier students to the latest digital learning tools and ultimately set our kids on a course to compete for the careers of tomorrow.” As United Nations Ambassador Nicki Haley has said, “Technology, connectivity, and digital learning are critical to unleashing our students’ potential. When we invest in them, we equip students with the skills their future employers will demand.” They are right. Each of these leaders have, as governors, embraced the E-Rate program to extend gigabit broadband to every school, Wi-Fi to every classroom, and opportunity to every child. But we can’t turn back the clock. I encourage you to oppose any effort that would in any way impede the E-Rate program or have the effect of not supporting public positions your Vice President and US Envoy to the United Nations have taken when it comes to enabling children to take full advantage of E-Rate enabled broadband infrastructure investments.
- Deregulate local broadband. We also need to ensure that broadband’s benefits don’t just go to Wall Street, but also extend all the way to Main Street. Too often, communities lack local broadband choices because they are saddled with state or other regulations that prevent the investment in and delivery of broadband. We should eliminate job-killing broadband regulations that stifle community broadband investment and local economic growth to enable every American, regardless of where they live, to take full advantage of local broadband investments and new community broadband options.
- Serve the veterans who have served America. As you have noted, we need to ensure “our veterans get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.” There is no better technology for anytime anywhere delivery of services than broadband. As Congress unanimously recognized in December when it passed H.R. 6394 (the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016), we need to promote broadband Internet access service for veterans, in particular low-income veterans and veterans residing in rural areas. Broadband is especially vital to veterans as they transition from the armed services to civilian employment. The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program has been providing veterans with crucial connectivity for over 30 years. An estimated 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans of U.S. military service. Too often, as you note, funding for veterans has fallen short. We should make sure that no one caps the Lifeline program benefits we give to veterans any more than we capped what we asked for them on the battlefield. We encourage you to champion veterans’ service to this country, and pledge not to harm the vital lifeline they need
- Ensure big media companies can’t bias news by putting mainstream media in the broadband fastlane ahead of unaffiliated independent content. You complain about mainstream media bias and unfairness, which could be exacerbated if establishment, big media companies are allowed to give their own mainstream content and news preferential treatment over their own broadband pipes, instead of giving all content equal treatment. Many Americans want to freely, fairly, and openly choose which media they want to consume. With broadband increasingly becoming the primary way Americans access their news and other content, we would encourage you to oppose efforts that would allow media giants to give preferred access to their own affiliated news sources and programming. Some of your advisors may try and tell you that enabling users to openly and freely access the content of their own choosing is the equivalent of Obamacare for the Internet, but I suspect you are too smart to be fooled by such simplistic arguments.