As part of his just-announced “Partnership with Rural Communities,” Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has proposed a massive rural broadband connectivity program that includes $135 billion in investment and “protecting” municipal and co-op broadband networks. “The modern economy is a knowledge economy,” Steyer’s plan points out. “Full participation in commerce depends on reliable, fast, affordable access to the Internet. However, 39% of rural residents do not have access to high speed wireless as Internet Service Providers fail to serve rural populations, despite receiving large government subsidies as an incentive.” Specifically, Steyer would:
- Protect the rights of local governments and not-for-profit organizations, including cooperatives, to build their own networks.
- Mobilize $135 billion in Rural Utilities Service grants and loans alongside private investment for broadband, fiber and next generation networks. [RUS money is dispensed by the Department of Agriculture, not the FCC].
- Target 60% of the $135 billion in new funding to disadvantaged communities, with at least 10% of the funds set aside to improve connectivity on tribal lands and at least 20% of funds directed to minority-majority communities, including Southern communities of color; and require investor-owned ISPs that receive federal grant funds to subsidize service to low-income residents to end the digital divide.
- Appoint FCC commissioners who support net neutrality.
Steyer’s plan did not say where the money was coming from.