Biden administration details ‘biggest internet investment in our country’s history’

When President Biden signed the bipartisan infrastructure bill last November, it pledged $45 billion to help upgrade America’s spotty broadband infrastructure.

This week, government officials offered more details on how that money will be made available through a new “Internet for All” program that aims to bring high-speed internet to every part of the US.

“We’re going to make sure every American has access to technologies that allow them to take classes, start a small business, see their doctor and participate in the modern economy,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a statement.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Finance, she described the broadband effort as “a huge business here at the Department of Commerce”. She visited Durham, North Carolina on Friday for the announcement, and reportedly said, “This is by far the largest Internet investment in our nation’s history.”

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo (C) arrives on Feb. 1, 2022 at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies on expanding broadband access on Capitol Hill in Washington DC.  (Photo by Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP) (Photo by ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo recently testified before the Senate about broadband access expansion. (ANDREW HARNIK/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s going to ‘change lives’

Biden officials promise the program will help increase Internet access in every corner of our country, including many places that have been left behind.

“That’s going to change lives,” Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves said of the program on Monday, adding that better access to telemedicine could actually save lives, not just change it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi added that Friday’s announcement is “another important step in ensuring that working families can succeed in the 21st century economy.”

Recent government data has shown that at least 19 million Americans do not have broadband access. Other estimates put the number without adequate connections higher, at 42 million. Microsoft (MSFT) has also studied the issue and says the actual number could reach 120.4 million people without high-speed internet.

The infrastructure law set aside a total of $65 billion for broadband efforts, and $15 billion funded a program to reduce Internet costs for consumers. Biden announced Monday that 20 leading Internet service providers have agreed to offer low-cost plans that will be free for millions of Americans after reimbursement.

The lion’s share of the money for broadband infrastructure — $42.5 billion — will go to a new Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program that will help states improve Internet connectivity. The fund is one of several programs open to applications to improve Internet speed and encourage Americans to sign up for broadband.

An open question: Municipal broadband

One question the industry will be watching closely is how much of the money will ultimately go toward efforts to enable more cities to offer Internet services directly. Vice President Kamala Harris, for example, has talked about urging more cities to open a store and offer service directly.

The latest data shows that more than 600 communities are served by some form of municipal network, but others are held back by local laws that prohibit them from partnering with private service providers.

“We strongly encourage every state to renounce the rules that prohibit community involvement and engagement. We think it makes a lot of sense for states to work directly with their municipalities to find the best options to provide access to each individual community in the country,” said Graves.

That effort is likely to meet resistance from companies such as AT&T (T), whose CEO John Stankey told Yahoo Finance last year that he is concerned about plans to “overbuild the existing infrastructure already in place with taxpayer-funded money.” “. USTelecom, an industry group that represents AT&T and others, told Yahoo Finance the companies would help “ensure that this historic funding is being used to its fullest and most potential.”

Moreover, it is not always easy to determine in which parts of the country there is actually no broadband available. The Federal Communications Commission is working this year to develop more comprehensive broadband access cards to replace the hodgepodge of resources that currently exist, including cards managed by private companies such as Microsoft (MSFT) and others.

The FCC says the agency has made significant progress toward new maps and will collect additional data in the summer ahead of a planned release in the fall. The new maps allow states and policymakers in Washington to focus funds and other resources more precisely on the areas most in need of assistance.

This post has been updated with additional context.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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