President Joe Biden's newly unveiled infrastructure plan includes $100 billion to boost broadband access across the nation—a provision that drew strong praise from digital rights advocates.
"It's encouraging that our leaders are finally starting to treat broadband as the basic necessity it is," said the ACLU.
"Broadband access is about more than the internet," the group added, "it's an issue of systemic equality."
In a Wednesday speech in Philadelphia touting the roughly $2 trillion American Jobs Plan as a "once-in-a generation investment in America," Biden drew attention to the so-called digital divide, which he vowed would be remedied by his latest legislative proposal.
"Millions of Americans... lack access to reliable high-speed internet, including more than 35% of rural America," the president said.
"Broadband internet is the new electricity."
—White HouseThe infrastructure plan, said Biden, would ensure "every single American has access to high quality, affordable, high-speed internet for businesses, for schools."
"And when I say 'affordable,' I mean it. Americans pay too much for internet service." He further promised to "drive down the price for families who have service now, and make it easier for families who don't have affordable service to be able to get it now."
A fact sheet released by White House references the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, stating: "Broadband internet is the new electricity."
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The document says the administration's plan will prioritize "building 'future-proof' broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas." The proposal would also get rid of "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."
Making broadband affordable, the fact sheet says, could include short-term individual subsidies. But what must be tackled is the nation's "overpriced internet service." The president "is committed to working with Congress to find a solution to reduce internet prices for all Americans," the sheet adds.
Among those praising the plan Wednesday was Free Press Action vice president of policy and general counsel Matt Wood, who called it "pivotal" and a reflection of Washington "getting serious about affordable and universal access."
Beyond the gaps in necessary infrastructure, Wood said in his statement that "the affordability divide is built on income inequality and systemic racial discrimination." Biden "rightly notes that robust subsidies for broadband adoption are an essential part of the solution to that problem," he said.
"Yet," Wood continued, "the proposal also acknowledges that lowering the price of broadband and expanding the choices people have with sound policies and investments is a much better use of taxpayer money than forever paying inflated charges to giant internet service providers."
Plaudits for the plan came also from Public Knowledge.
"President Biden's $100 billion infrastructure plan acknowledges an important fact about broadband today—it is an essential service, like water and electricity, and our public policy should reflect that fact," said Greg Guice, government affairs director at the open internet advocacy group.
"By providing state, local, and tribal governments funding and the flexibility necessary to ensure citizens have access to robust, future-proof networks," said Guice, "this plan will help us close the digital divide."