WASHINGTON DC – The U.S. Senate and House Democrats this week unveiled one of the critical tenets of their new economic agenda – “A Better Deal: Universal High-Speed Internet.” The Senate and House Democrats said that far too many Americans – many of them located in rural and inner-city communities – lack access to the high-speed, high-quality internet they need to succeed in a 21st Century economy.
This vital component of the Democrats’ A Better Deal agenda proposes to bring high-speed, affordable internet to every American by investing $40 billion in federal dollars to build the kind of broadband infrastructure that will finally connect communities that have been left behind by the big internet service providers.
The Democrats’ plan would also upgrade the nation’s critical safety infrastructure and create accurate maps of areas that lack adequate internet access in order to ensure rural Americans are not left out.
The Democrats made clear they will fight for this funding in any infrastructure or appropriations package moving in 2017 or 2018.
U.S. Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Ed Markey (D-MA) joined U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (IL-17), Terri Sewell (AL-07), Rick Nolan (MN-08), and Ann Kuster (NH-02) to introduce the Democrats’ proposal.
To highlight the importance of overhauling access to rural broadband, the Democrats were joined via video conference by Dr. David Charles, Medical Director of Vanderbilt Telehealth and Professor and Vice-Chairman of Neurology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, TN, who relies on high-speed internet access to save patients’ lives and bring health care to rural communities.
“In today’s America, broadband equals innovation and job creation. Whether you are in the Berkshires or Bozeman, the infrastructure that connects Americans to each other is helping spur economic growth and democratic action across the nation. I am proud to join my Democratic colleagues to unveil a plan that will ensure that all Americans have access to high speed broadband, the backbone the 21st century economy. And I will fight for this broadband funding in any infrastructure package or appropriations bill that Congress considers,” said Senator Edward J. Markey
“Too many people in small towns and rural communities do not have access to high-speed Internet,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “In Michigan’s rural areas, 37% of the population lacks high-speed internet access. That’s why we’re here today to introduce our plan to make high-speed internet accessible to all Americans. The American people deserve to know that someone has their back – that’s what our Better Deal is all about!”
“It’s unacceptable that in the year 2017, 23 million rural Americans still don’t have access to high-speed broadband,” said Representative Cheri Bustos (IL-17). “With so many small towns and rural communities struggling to compete with big cities to attract job creators and entrepreneurs, this is a major problem. That’s why we’re proposing a Better Deal to deliver reliable and affordable high-speed broadband access to all Americans.”
“I know it’s hard to believe, but there are places in rural America where there is no internet access or really slow broadband,” said Senator Jon Tester (D-MT). “There are places where students can’t download the latest biology research, where first time home buyers have to physically deliver paperwork to their lender instead of email it, and where doctors can’t FaceTime with their patients. Rural Americans deserve a better deal than that.”
“Universal high-speed internet is not only possible, but it is necessary to the survival of rural America,” said Representative Terri A. Sewell (AL-07). “I come from the Black Belt of Alabama, an area that is rich in culture and history, but one which faces an infrastructure crisis that has handicapped families, workers, businesses and communities. Without reliable access to internet services, my constituents in Alabama are being starved of 21st century opportunities. Our plan to make high-speed internet available to all Americans takes an important step towards connecting every American with the tools and opportunities they need to live out their dreams.”
“It’s time for big ideas and solutions worthy of our great Nation and its history of solving problems,” said Representative Rick Nolan (MN-08). “It’s time to put the same energy and determination into providing high-speed broadband for rural America as Franklin Roosevelt applied in establishing the Rural Electrification Administration and the Rural Telephone Administration during the New Deal.”
“Expanding access to reliable, high-speed broadband internet services is critical to boosting our economy and helping small businesses in rural and underserved communities grow and succeed,” said Representative Ann Kuster (NH-02). “In New Hampshire, far too many people lack access to adequate internet services and what we’re proposing today is an ambitious plan to modernize our telecom infrastructure and get Granite Staters and people across the country the services they need to compete in the 21st Century economy.”
“A Better Deal: Universal High-Speed Internet” will connect all of America to fast, affordable internet. Specifically, the plan would invest at least $40 billion in direct federal funding using the following principles:
1. Provide Direct Federal Support for a Universal Internet Grant Program to Close the ‘Last Mile’ Gap: These new funds would be used to bring high-speed internet infrastructure to areas most in need of quality, affordable service. Support would be distributed on a technology- and provider-neutral basis, and would be designed to secure high-speed internet at levels sufficient for the 21st Century in the most efficient and cost effective means possible. The program would also have broad eligibility so that partners like rural co-ops, local governments, or other alternative entities could compete on an equal playing field with private sector providers.
2. Create Accurate Maps of Areas that Lack Adequate Internet Access: To ensure success and that resources are well spent, we must have an accurate understanding of the high-speed internet gaps that currently exist in the country; we cannot merely rely on providers’ representation of the service they deliver. Complete and reliable service maps that accurately represent the real-world consumer experience are a necessity to ensuring every American gets efficiently and effectively connected to adequate, affordable high-speed internet service.
3. Deliver Internet Speeds Needed to Compete in the 21st Century: Americans should have access to high-speed internet regardless of where they live and those speeds must be sufficient for them to be competitive in a changing world. That means achieving universal high-speed internet coverage that provides speeds fast enough to surpass modern challenges like rebuilding main street, completing homework assignments, precision agriculture, access to health care, classrooms and other business applications. We won’t pursue solutions that provide yesterday’s internet service; rather we will deliver high-speed internet access that empowers communities both big and small to compete and prosper for years to come.
4. Upgrade the Nation’s Critical Safety Infrastructure: Grants would be made available to states and localities to upgrade critical public safety infrastructure – most importantly, the nation’s aging 9-1-1 systems. Modernizing 9-1-1 is a public safety imperative. Next Generation 9-1-1 will ensure that text, data, video, and other essential digital information can flow seamlessly from citizens to first responders through an integrated, interoperable 9-1-1 system.
In the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt understood that every American needed reliable and affordable electricity to succeed in the new economy. But utilities had only delivered electricity to big cities, leaving millions of Americans behind. As a result of the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, FDR’s New Deal brought jobs, productivity, opportunity, and growth to all corners of the Country.
The electricity of 2017 is high-speed internet. Our pledge in A Better Deal is to connect every American to high-speed, reliable internet by providing direct federal investments to deliver the highest quality internet access at the lowest price.
This announcement follows a number of Democratic proposals made over the last six months that would offer all Americans A Better Deal, including: new economic security measures to stop countries that cheat on trade from buying American companies or flooding our markets with cheap goods that lead to American job losses and lower wages; a trillion dollar infrastructure plan to rebuild America’s roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure while creating 15 million good-paying middle class American jobs over the next 10 years; legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 by 2024; and major paid family leave legislation to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for workers who need time to care for a newborn or adopted child, a seriously ill family member, or their own serious health condition.