Sunday, June 26, 2022

Biden Announces New Partnership to Expand Broadband Access

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On Monday, the Biden administration announced a new partnership with 20 broadband providers, including AT&T and Verizon, to improve their subsidized high-speed Internet plans for low-income Americans.

The move supports the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers a $30-a-month grant to cover the costs Americans pay for Internet service ($75 a month on tribal lands). The program was completed last November as part of Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill and $65 billion investment to improve connectivity across the country.

“In the 21st century, access to the Internet is essential for success. Everyone in our country, no matter how much they earn, should be able to afford high-speed Internet and a high-speed Internet subscription,” Vice President Kamala Harris said during Monday’s announcement.

In a fact sheet Provided Monday by the White House, officials said the 20 partnering providers cover more than 80 percent of the U.S. population “in urban, suburban and rural areas.” The providers’ promises range from increasing the speeds of their low-income plans to lowering their costs. For many businesses, individuals who qualify for the program can receive a free Internet service, as their low-income plans cost no more than $30.

For example, Verizon lowered its plan from $40 to $30, making service free for eligible households.

“We’ve seen during the pandemic just how essential high-speed internet really is,” President Biden said. “Fast internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.”

Still, broadband providers will largely benefit from this partnership. Americans who previously could not afford the service can now access the Internet through these government grants, bringing new customers to the partner companies. Providers don’t have to do more than increase packages a few megabits or cut costs.

Telecom’s top agent, the FCC, is also standing still. Senate Republicans have postponed the nomination of Gigi Sohn as the agency’s third Democratic commissioner for more than six months. If approved, Sohn would secure a majority for Democrats on the committee and allow them to take more drastic action to address concerns about competition and net neutrality.

“Some Internet service providers appearing at this White House event are sabotaging President Biden’s FCC even as they pose for today’s photo,” Matt Wood, Free Press’s VP of policy and general counsel, said in a statement Monday. “It will be hard to see the president and vice president standing shoulder to shoulder with the leaders of the same companies orchestrating a smear campaign against Gigi Sohn.”

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