Biden's "New Deal" to provide high-speed broadband to every US citizen by 2029

via Flickr © fbobolas (CC BY-SA 2.0)

via Flickr © fbobolas (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • US$100 billion network infrastructure extension and development plan over the next eight years
  • Part of a massive and much needed $2 trillion national regeneration programme
  • Once in a generation" initiative to "rebuild the backbone of America"
  • Trump's corporate tax cuts to be rescinded to help pay for "100 per cent broadband to the entire US"

US President' Joe Biden has given details of an immense, and immensely expensive plan similar in many respects to the "New Deal" series of infrastructure projects and financial and regulatory reforms enacted by Franklin D Roosevelt between 1933 and 1939 that was instrumental in bringing the US economy and people out of the Great Depression triggered by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. The infrastructure and jobs plan sets aside $100 billion to fund broadband access to every section of American society and finally and completely bridge the US digital divide by the end of the decade.

It lays particular emphasis on local and regional solutions based on networks closely affiliated with local governments, municipalities, co-operatives and not-for-profit projects serving distinct communities and/or areas. It also calls for the domestic costs of broadband to fall year-on-year to encourage take-up by the rural and urban poor. A White House statement reads, "While the President recognizes that individual subsidies to cover internet costs may be needed in the short term, he believes continually providing subsidies to cover the cost of overpriced internet service is not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers." Elsewhere in the economic booster package is the news that $50 billion will be provided for investment in US domestic semiconductor manufacturing."

Under the generic heading of "Revitalising America's Infrastructure", the plan says, "Broadband internet is the new electricity. It is necessary for Americans to do their jobs, to participate equally in school learning, health care, and to stay connected. Yet, by one definition, more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds. The United States has some of the highest broadband prices among OECD countries and millions of Americans can’t use broadband internet even if the infrastructure exists where they live. In urban areas as well, there is a stark digital divide: a much higher percentage of white families use home broadband internet than black or latino families. The last year made painfully clear the cost of these disparities, particularly for students who struggled to connect while learning remotely, compounding learning loss and social isolation."

Furthermore, in something that will particularly stick in the craw of the big telcos and ISPs, but will delight end users, the Biden plan will require service providers and network operators to "promote price transparency and competition" and "remove barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge."

The gist of broadband part of the President's huge regeneration initiative is that the federal government will remunerate organisations and companies that deploy fibre-optic cabling. Once they are in place, ISPs will be permitted to overlay their services on top of the fibre. That will be like a red rag to a bull where the big telcos and network operators such as AT&T are concerned given that their entire business models and revenue streams are based on having total control over physical infrastructure. It won't be long before pushback begins and lobbying intensifies.

Focus also on national electric grid, R&D and "technologies of the future"

To ensure that everyone in the States will be able to access broadband, the Biden plan also provides funding for a long-term plan to modernise the US electricity grid which is an old-fashioned and vulnerable mish-mash as was demonstrated recently when vast swathes of Texas suffered days and weeks of power outages caused by rare snowstorms. Research by the US Department of Energy study shows that power outages cost the national American economy upwards of $70 billion a year.

The new President will also tap Congress to approve the expenditure of $180 billion on investments in "R&D and the technologies of the future." Mr Biden says, "We are one of the few major economies whose public investments in research and development have declined as a percent of GDP in the past 25 years. Countries like China are investing aggressively in R&D, and China now ranks number two in the world in R&D expenditures. In addition, barriers to careers in high-innovation sectors remain significant. We must do more to improve access to the higher wage sectors of our economy. In order to win the 21st century economy America must get back to investing in the researchers, laboratories, and universities across our nation. But this time, we must do so with a commitment to lifting up workers and regions who were left out of past investments."

The President says the research networks and organisations of the US are vital to the nation's continuing and future economic competitiveness and, important this, also to national security. He wants Congress to vote $50 billion to the National Science Foundation to build a "Technology Directorate" to focus on the development of technologies such as semiconductors, advanced computing, comms, energy and biotechnology. 

The huge plan forms just half of the President's overall $4 trillion agenda for change and regeneration. Part 2, "The American Families Plan", due for publication in a couple of months, will focus on healthcare and education. All will be paid for, in part, by increased taxes, especially on the ultra-wealthy, by hiking corporation tax from 21 per cent to 28 per cent and introducing regulatory regimes to compel multinationals to pay considerably more tax on profits made overseas. There's a new broom in the White House and he's giving tired and tatty US infrastructure a long-awaited brush-up and polish.

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