Biden doles out $42bn to build broadband for the US masses

Picture by Gage Skidmore from flickr (

Picture by Gage Skidmore from flickr (

  • US president Joe Biden is determined to deliver internet access for all with a budget of $42.45bn
  • Affordable, reliable high-speed broadband across the whole of the US by 2030
  • The huge programme is a modern echo of the New Deal of the 1930s and the building of the Interstate road network in the 1950s
  • Money for every US state and territory

In taking broadband internet access to the masses, and apportioning $42.45bn of state funds to do so, US president Joe Biden is invoking some strong and positive historical precedents. 

Back in 1936, as part of his far-reaching ‘New Deal’ initiative to rescue the US economy from the ravages of the immense and long-lasting Great Depression that was the result of the 1929 Wall Street Crash, Franklin D Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the US, introduced the Rural Electrification Act that provided federal loans for the installation of electrical distribution systems across the nation’s isolated rural areas. The funding was channelled through co-operative electric power companies, hundreds of which still exist today – that historical reality and memory should bring succour to today’s ISPs, many of which are struggling with problems similar to those of 87 years ago.

Biden, the 46th US president, well aware that the provision of broadband is absolutely vital to the continuing development of the nation’s economy, is directing his administration to hook up all of the vast country’s homes and premises to the internet with high-speed connections. Thus, under the terms and aegis of the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) programme, and in a direct echo of FDR’s New Deal, the Department of Commerce has just announced massive federal funding for every state and territory – not forgetting the District of Columbia (DC) – to help to pay for the necessary high-speed internet infrastructure deployment.

The money comes via the terms of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and is worth an astonishing $42.45bn. It is the biggest ever internet funding initiative in US history and the administration will now ride across the nation on the coat-tails of the announcement in a three-week-long tour highlighting the investments, jobs and projects that have been made, and will be made, possible by the Biden administration’s economic agenda.

More than 8.5 million homes and small businesses still do not have high-speed broadband access, while tens of millions more have to put up with patchy, inconsistent, fragile and very expensive internet infrastructure. According to Biden’s timetable, that state of affairs will be remedied by 2030 at the latest, at which point everyone in the US should have access to affordable high-speed broadband.

Unsurprisingly, given the size of the US and the regional disparities in broadband access, the amounts granted to each state vary considerably, but each one will get at least $107m, while 29 states get more than $1bn each. The top-10 allocations go to Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington State. The biggest award is the $3.3bn that goes to the Lone Star state of Texas. 

The programme has also spurred private sector investments and created new jobs under the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) “Made in America” policy, which seeks to increase reliance on US domestic supply chains as a means to reduce the importation of foreign-made goods.

For example, to that end, and in anticipation of the increased federal investment in the deployment of high-speed internet access, broadband infrastructure vendors CommScope and Corning are investing $47m and $500m respectively in creating new jobs in North Carolina. Overall, Biden’s “Investing in America” programme is attracting a very high level of private sector investment: To date more than $500bn has been raised to bring manufacturing back to America after many decades of offshoring, and thousands of well-paid new jobs are being created.

The Biden administration’s immense programme of support for the broadband project is impressive and far-reaching

What’s more, billions of other dollars have already been distributed to help fund local broadband deployments. These include $14.2bn for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which makes disadvantaged households eligible for a rebate of $30 a month on their broadband tariffs. This rises to $75 a month on qualifying Tribal Lands, areas that are often among the most deprived and disadvantaged in the nation. Furthermore, via a network of government-approved ISPs, the same homes can also get a one-off $100 grant to help pay for a desktop, laptop or tablet computer. On top of that, 20 ISPs nationwide, signatories to the Affordable Connectivity Program, now provide 19 million users with free broadband: However, the actual total number of those eligible to take advantage of the ACOP is 49 million.

The other Biden initiatives include $2.75bn for the Digital Equity Act, a law providing community grants to help them with support and to gain the necessary skills to take advantage of the economic opportunities access to high-speed broadband can bring. Then there’s an extra $2bn for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which provides grants to federally recognised tribal governments, organisations, colleges and universities, as well as the Department of Hawaiian Homelands and the Alaska Native Corporations to provide high-speed internet on tribal lands, and contributes to telehealth, distance learning, high-speed internet affordability, and digital inclusion programmes.

 An additional $2bn is devoted to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ‘Reconnect Program’, which provides loans and grants primarily to build high-speed internet infrastructure in eligible rural areas. And then there’s $1bn for the Middle Mile Program (MMP), which provides funding for the backhaul and aggregation links that connect local networks to national data backbones and the internet.

Other contributors to Biden’s American Rescue Plan are the US Department of Treasury’s Capital Projects Fund (CPF) which, separately, is providing $10bn in funds to states, territories and tribes where high-speed internet is classified as an ‘eligible use’. Over $7bn of that money has already been dedicated to high-speed internet deployment and connectivity across 45 states.

Then there are the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF), which provide nationwide support for the response to and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Some $8bn of that is being used by states, territories, tribes, and local governments for high-speed internet deployment and connectivity.

Last, but by no means least, the US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has used its $7bn Emergency Connectivity Fund to help schools and libraries close the country’s so-called ‘homework gap’, by providing them with 10.5 million connected devices and more than 5 million internet connections.

Biden’s plan finally to bridge the digital divide is both huge and hugely impressive. In value and scope it even exceeds the massive contributions that FDR’s New Deal made, as well as  President Eisenhower’s successful determination to fund the construction of the US Interstate Highway System in the 1950s. Both those generation-defining projects made major contributions to the economy and the development of US society in the 20th century.

It is to be hoped that Biden’s 21st century vision and his administration’s determination to drive it through to completion will go down in history as the epoch-making event it is. It certainly deserves to be so celebrated, but the currently divided and divisive nature of US party politics might mean such recognition could well take quite some time. As the saying has it, “A prophet is without honour in his own country” and all too often that turns out to be true.

- Martyn Warwick, Editor in Chief, TelecomTV