Warren makes $85B federally-funded broadband promise

As part of her bid for the presidency, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has made some bold proposals to improve access to broadband in underserved areas, and has made it clear that restoring net neutrality is also among her priorities. She proposes $85 billion to cover the enormous costs of making sure “every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford.”

The proposal is part of a greater plan to “invest in rural America” that Sen. Warren detailed in a blog post. As well as promises relating to healthcare, housing and labor, the presidential hopeful dedicated a section to “A Public Option for Broadband.”

This isn’t “broadband as utility,” as some have called for over the years, but rather a massive subsidy program to multiply and diversify internet services in rural areas, hopefully bringing them to the speeds and reliability available in cities.

Before announcing her own plan, she criticized the outcomes of earlier subsidies, like the FCC’s $2 billion Connect America Fund II:

[ISPs] have deliberately restricted competition, kept prices high, and used their armies of lobbyists to convince state legislatures to ban municipalities from building their own public networks. Meanwhile, the federal government has shoveled billions of taxpayer dollars to private ISPs in an effort to expand broadband to remote areas, but those providers have done the bare minimum with these resources — offering internet speeds well below the FCC minimum.

Her alternative is to shovel billions to everyone but ISPs to improve internet infrastructure.

“Only electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes, cities, counties, and other state subdivisions will be eligible for grants from this fund,” she wrote, “and all grants will be used to build the fiber infrastructure necessary to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas, underserved areas, or areas with minimal competition.”

By paying 90% of the costs of rolling out fiber and other costs, the federal government allows smaller businesses and utilities to get in on the fun rather than leaving it all to megacorporations like Comcast and Verizon. (Disclosure: TechCrunch is owned by Verizon through Verizon Media. Our parent company is almost certain to be dead set against Warren’s plan.)

Not only that, but it directly targets use by municipal broadband organizations, which have formed in some states and cities in response to ISP chokeholds on the region. These organizations have been rendered illegal or toothless across half the country by legislation often supported or even proposed by ISPs and telecoms. Sen. Warren said she would preempt state laws on this matter using federal legislation, something that would no doubt be controversial.

Applicants would have to offer at least one 100/100 megabit connection option, and one discount plan for low-income customers. This would ensure that companies don’t take the money and then lay down the bare minimum connection tolerable today.

The $85 billion fund will be administered by the Department of Economic Development, part of the Department of Commerce, under a newly minted Office of Broadband Access; $5 billion will be set aside for full-cost coverage of broadband expansion on Native American lands, which are often worse off than non-Native rural areas.

To be clear, this internet effort would not mean a government-run broadband option, even in the municipal case (these are often nonprofits or private entities funded by governments). The plan is to help small companies and organizations overcome the prohibitive cost of entry and jump-start them into actual operation. The government would not operate the service or have any control over it other than, as mentioned, at the outset as far as requiring certain capacities and such.

In addition to the plan for a publicly funded broadband push, Sen. Warren made it clear (as Sen. Sanders did last week) that she would be appointing FCC commissioners who support net neutrality, specifically as it was enacted in 2015 under Title II.

The FCC’s inaccurate broadband maps and progress reports will also get a kick in the pants under Warren’s plan, though the specifics are few. And “anti-competitive behaviors” like under-the-table deals between ISPs and landlords will be rooted out, as well.

These are big promises and of course easy to make ahead of election, but they’re also smart ones, directly addressing frustrations in the industry and parts of the process currently dominated by immovable ISPs and their lobbyists. And the fact that these issues are being addressed so prominently at all as part of a presidential bid is good news to those currently on the wrong side of the digital divide.

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Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan To Counter Evil ISPs With Public Broadband

Illustration for article titled Elizabeth Warren Has a Plan To Counter Evil ISPs With Public Broadband

Photo: Getty

Not everyone in the US has access to the internet, and that’s largely because the internet service providers that govern these systems are money-hungry, discriminatory, and, frankly, evil. Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren has a plan to strip some of that power away from ISPs through the creation of publicly-owned broadband.

On Wednesday, Senator Warren published a Medium post—My Plan to Invest in Rural America—which included a breakdown on how she hopes to develop a public alternative to internet access. The plan intends to help communities most often disenfranchised by costly and geographically-limited broadband access. These include low-income households as well as rural and poor neighborhoods.

Warren’s plan involves a few moving parts. First, she wrote that she would pass federal legislation that would allow municipalities to build their own broadband networks. Second, she would create an Office of Broadband Access under the Department of Economic Development to oversee an $85 billion federal grant program that builds out the infrastructure needed for high-speed internet. Electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profits, tribes, cities, counties, and state subdivisions are the only groups that can apply for these funds, emphasizing the push to bring these systems into areas presently underserved.

Warren wrote that the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost of construction for these grants and that institutions that receive this funding will have to provide public internet to every home in the stated area. What’s more, these grant recipients will also have to have at least one discounted plan. There will also be $5 billion dedicated to grants for tribal nations, specifically to bring broadband internet to Native American lands and build out thousands of miles of internet infrastructure on these lands that are, to date, unserved.

For fiscal hawks, Warren briefly outlined her plan to pay for the initiative, writing:

The cost of each and every one of these investments is fully offset by my plans to make the ultra-wealthy and large corporations pay more in taxes. Those plans include my annual two-cent wealth tax on fortunes over $50 million and my plan to ensure that very large and profitable American corporations can’t get away with paying zero taxes. And the new investments I’m announcing today for universal broadband access and health care options in rural areas can be offset by changing the tax laws that encourage companies to merge and reduce competition.

The plan also extends beyond simply providing funds and construction for broadband internet, it also details a number of ways in which Warren will crackdown on shitty and unjust ISP practices. She said that she’ll appoint FCC Commissioners dedicated to the restoration of net neutrality and transparency around broadband maps—they will require ISPs to submit reports related to internet service, speeds, and aggregated pricing, which will then be made public and regularly audited. The plan also involves ramping up the FCC’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy and passing the Digital Equity Act, both of which invest time and money into bridging the digital divide.

“I will make sure every home in America has a fiber broadband connection at a price families can afford,” Warren wrote in the post. “That means publicly-owned and operated networks — and no giant ISPs running away with taxpayer dollars.”

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Elizabeth Warren just vowed to scrap student loan debt for 42 million Americans

Elizabeth Warren just vowed to scrap student loan debt for 42 million Americans

Elizabeth Warren

Sen. Elizabeth Warren proposed eliminating student debt for millions of Americans.

(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

In an appeal to younger voters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed wiping out student-loan debt for good for millions of Americans.

In a blog post published Monday, Warren, who announced her bid for president in February, proposed canceling up to $50,000 in student-loan debt for 42 million Americans. She said her plan would wipe out that debt for more than 75% of Americans with student loans, using funds from her proposed “ultra-millionaire” wealth tax, a 2% annual tax for families with more than $50 million.

The plan would also spur an economic stimulus that would increase homebuying and create new businesses, Warren argued.

Read more: Apple, Google, and Netflix don’t require employees to have 4-year degrees, and this could soon become an industry norm

Warren proposed canceling up to $50,000 in student-loan debt for every person with household income under $100,000, phasing out by $1 for every $3 of income between $100,000 and $250,000. Warren said her plan would cost the government about $640 billion.

“We got into this crisis because state governments and the federal government decided that …  they’d rather cut taxes for billionaires and giant corporations and offload the cost of higher education onto students and their families,” Warren wrote, adding, “It’s time to end that experiment.”

The total amount that young people owe exceeded $1 trillion last year, their highest debt exposure since immediately before the financial crisis. What’s worse is that despite low unemployment, a significant number of graduates are working low-paying jobs, and their wage growth has stalled for years.

Some economists have predicted that 40% of borrowers might default on their student loans by 2023, which could have economic effects similar to those of the subprime-mortgage crisis.

The crisis, as Warren said, has hit black and brown families harder than white families. Black graduates default at five times the rate of white graduates, and a recent Wall Street Journal report found that graduates of historically black colleges had 32% more debt than students at other colleges and that most had not paid any debt in their first few years out of school.

Warren also proposed that federal and state governments partner to subsidize the cost of all public colleges and invest an additional $100 billion in Pell Grants to help pay for non-tuition expenses.

“The enormous student debt burden weighing down our economy isn’t the result of laziness or irresponsibility,” Warren wrote. “It’s the result of a government that has consistently put the interests of the wealthy and well-connected over the interests of working families.”


Student Debt
Elizabeth Warren
Student Loans

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