US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has pledged to make the Internet a human right for Americans, with a $150 billion broadband plan that dwarfs the spending already promised by Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders believes that the monopoly of large tech companies over the media needs to be broken up, while the Democrat also wants to make Internet services more accessible to vulnerable people. Sanders argues that his Internet plan could help pave the way to greater equality in the US.
“Just as President Roosevelt fundamentally made America more equal by bringing electricity to every farm and rural community over 80 years ago, as president, I will do the same with high-speed internet,” Sanders commented in a statement.
Several Democratic candidates have cited the Internet as a major area for development in the US. Joe Biden has called for a $20 billion investment in worldwide web infrastructure, while South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg has promoted an $80 billion ‘Internet for All’ plan, while also pledging to reinstate net neutrality.
But Sanders’ plan is hugely ambitious, also calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to cap broadband prices, in order to create a market that is more accessible for millions of Americans. Sanders also intends to appoint FCC commissioners, who will then classify broadband providers as ‘common carriers’; akin to the way that traditional phone services are handled currently.
Should Sanders’ plan go live, the FCC would then be armed with the authority to restore the net neutrality rules that were abandoned in 2017. However, Sanders would go further than Obama did as President, by also enabling the body to regulate Internet access rates, while ISPs would be forced to offer ‘Basic Internet Plans’, at what are described as ‘affordable’ prices.
The policy would require a radical shake-up of the way that American media operates, owing to the power of a handful of corporations. For example, AT&T owns both Time Warner, while Comcast owns NBC-Universal, and both would seemingly be required to separate their roles as access providers and content producers.
Sanders isn’t the first political candidate to emphasize the importance of the web, with the FCC having already invested billions in programs such as the Connect America Fund. This initiative is intended to provide Internet access in underserved communities, while the Universal Service Fund subsidizes access to telecommunications services.
The plan is also somewhat similar to the pledge made by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to role out free broadband in the UK. Corbyn’s plan would see full-fiber broadband rolled out to 29 million homes in the UK by 2030, at a cost of £20 billion.
Sanders and Corbyn would both be considered to be on the political left, and would be obvious allies should both become leaders of their respective countries. But this is some way away, particularly with Corbyn’s Labour trailing in the polls ahead of next week’s general election in the UK.