Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on Friday unveiled a sweeping plan to ensure affordable broadband service throughout the country.
“High-speed internet service must be treated as the new electricity -- a public utility that everyone deserves as a basic human right,” the Vermont senator's ambitious proposal states.
He proposes to both break up and regulate broadband carriers.
“Telecom and cable monopolies exploit their dominant market power to gouge consumers and lobby government at all levels to keep out competition,” his plan states. He adds that large broadband providers incorrectly report coverage, “obscure their prices, and often don’t deliver promised speeds.”
Among other specifics, Sanders would restore several of the regulations passed by the Federal Communications Commission during the Obama era -- including a set of net neutrality rules that prohibit broadband carriers from blocking or throttling traffic, or charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The current Republican-controlled FCC voted in 2017 to repeal those regulations.
Along with the net neutrality rules, the Obama-era FCC also passed a set of broadband privacy rules that would have required carriers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on their web-browsing data for ad targeting. Those rules were revoked by Congress in 2017.
Sanders says he would reinstate and expand the privacy rules, and “work with privacy experts, racial justice activists, and other stakeholders to develop and pass a digital privacy bill of rights into law.”
The senator also proposes overriding laws in 19 states that hinder municipalities from building their own networks.
The Obama-era FCC attempted to invalidate those laws, but an appellate court nixed the effort on the grounds that the FCC lacked authority to override the local laws.
In addition to invalidating laws that hinder muni-broadband, Sanders' plan would provide $150 billion in grants and technical assistance for cities or states to build public networks.
“It’s time to take this critical 21st century utility out of the hands of monopolies and conglomerates and bring it to the people while creating good-paying, union jobs at the same time,” his plan states. “This is not a radical idea. Cities across the country deliver municipality-owned, high-speed internet to their residents, from Chattanooga, Tennessee, to Lafayette, Louisiana.”
Sanders also wants to ban several controversial practices by carriers, including their use of data caps. Currently, many mobile providers that promise “unlimited” service actually throttle some subscribers who exceed a monthly limit. AT&T, for instance, recently rolled out “unlimited” data plans that throttle users after they consume more than either 50 GB or 100 GB of data -- but the throttling only occurs when the network is congested.
Some wireline providers also impose data caps in certain markets. Comcast, for instance, caps users at 1 terabyte of data per month. People who exceed that amount can purchase unlimited data for an extra $50 a month.