Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is blasting internet service providers, as well as Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, for apersistent “digital divide” that has left many rural Americans without access to high-speed broadband.
Internet service providers have “deliberately restricted competition, kept prices high and used their armies of lobbyists to persuade state legislatures to ban towns and cities from building their own public networks,” Warren writes Wednesday in an op-ed in The Washington Post.
Warren's charge of restricting competition refers to efforts by broadband carriers to convince lawmakers in North Carolina and other states to pass laws that limit the ability of municipalities to create their own networks.
The senator adds that Pai “has been an effective agent” for broadband providers.
“He led the charge to dismantle net neutrality last year, and he has done everything in his power to stop municipalities from building their own broadband infrastructure,” Warren writes.
The FCC said in a recent report that 21.3 million Americans lacked access to web connections at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream at the end of 2017.
Warren adds that her plan for broadband deployment involves creating a new Office of Broadband Access that would manage grants to utility cooperatives, nonprofits, tribes, cities, counties, and other operators of public networks.
In 2015, the Obama administration touted the benefits of municipal broadband, and urged the FCC to nix state laws that prevent local governments from building their own networks. The administration noted at the time that some localities -- like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina -- were able to roll out muni-broadband service that was faster and cheaper than what had previously been available.
That same year, the FCC voted to invalidate limits on municipal broadband in North Carolina and Tennessee, but the move was struck down by a federal appellate court.
The conservative group Freedom Works, which opposes municipal broadband, said Wednesday that Warren's proposal “would decrease Internet quality for millions of Americans and require taxpayers to foot the massive bill.”
Warren isn't the only presidential candidate addressing broadband policy. In February, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) launched her campaign by setting out a broadband platform including universal connectivity, net neutrality and online privacy.