Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has pledged to pass the Digital Equity Act, create an Office of Broadband Access with an $85 billion budget to “massively expand broadband access across the country”, and require applicants for that funding — available only to cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, or local governments — to offer low-cost Internet plans for low-income customers.
Warren’s “Public Option for Broadband”, unveiled on her campaign Medium site as part of her “Plan to Invest in Rural America”, would also guarantee municipalities’ right to build their own broadband networks, and require all telecommunications services including internet service providers to contribute to the Federal Universal Service Fund. It pledges to “make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford.”
Warren, a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, is a co-sponsor of the Digital Equity Act of 2019, along with two of her rivals for the Democratic Presidential nomination — Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California. The proposal to invest more than $1.2 billion in digital inclusion over five years was introduced in April by Washington Senator Patty Murray.
While Warren’s broadband proposals are framed as part of her rural investment platform, they are clearly not intended only for rural consumers. The plan points out that “…while urban areas may be more likely to have access to fiber broadband, many residents can’t afford to connect to it. Nearly 27% of households in Detroit and Cleveland had no Internet access in 2017, and households with incomes below $35,000 comprise 60% of households without broadband access, despite making up just 31% of the national population.”
Warren’s campaign staff working on her broadband plan reached out to NDIA for ideas, and the plan credits NDIA as a source in several footnotes, according to Executive Director Angela Siefer. “NDIA is a non-partisan organization interested in promoting digital inclusion across the country. One way to do that is to share our knowledge and ideas with public officials, candidates and parties. We’re grateful that Senator Warren has taken advantage of NDIA’s resources, and hope other candidates will do the same.”