On Tuesday, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg released a new economic policy plan for rural America that includes a multibillion-dollar broadband initiative and a pledge to fight for public internet options.
As part of the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s $80 billion “Internet For All” initiative, he promises to expand internet access to unserved and underserved communities across the country within his first term in office. In areas where there is little to no competition among broadband providers, Buttigieg says that his administration would seek to create a public option for broadband, something he hopes would patch the huge service gaps and drive down prices across the country.
“Where companies have not provided coverage or it is unaffordable,” the policy paper says, “his Administration will fight to create a public option to compete with these companies and make access affordable for communities being left behind.”
Major broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast often have sparse competition in rural areas and have even been found to stifle the creation of locally owned broadband and fiber projects in underserved communities.
Buttigieg isn’t the only Democratic candidate calling for more broadband in rural areas. Last week, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced her big broadband plan that would include an $85 billion grant program for nonprofits and local governments to build their own networks. That money would be awarded by the Office of Broadband Access that would be housed in Warren’s new Department of Economic Development. Warren’s plan would also create new protections for these locally owned networks because, over the past few years, local legislatures have passed bills outlawing cities’ abilities to build out coverage on their own, primarily in rural states.
Warren and Buttigieg are the only candidates calling for a public option for broadband, but other presidential candidates have also laid out their own plans to extend broadband coverage across the country. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) put out her plan earlier this year as part of a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, which would promise universal coverage by 2022. A handful of other candidates, including former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), have pledged to foster greater access to the internet if they are elected president.