Biden’s new transition plan offers old broadband policy, so far

12 November 2020 by Steve Blum
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Salinas windmill cell site

The presumptive 46th president likes broadband, at least insofar as it promotes “an equitable, clean energy future”. He thinks everyone should have it, and the people who build and run it should be members of labor unions. That’s about all Joe Biden is saying about broadband policy as he begins to light up his transition team.

There are only a couple of mentions of broadband on Biden’s transition website, and it’s lumped in with infrastructure generally and environmental action specifically. He’s promising to…

…Create millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure – from roads and bridges to green spaces and water systems to electricity grids and universal broadband – to lay a new foundation for sustainable growth, compete in the global economy, withstand the impacts of climate change, and improve public health, including access to clean air and clean water.

Biden made similar, but a bit more specific, pledges in a peace treaty signed with primary opponent Bernie Sanders in July. He seemed to be in favor of giving federal money to support municipal broadband back then, but he’s holding his cards closer to the chest now. Although many public employees are union members, particularly here in California, when “union jobs” and “infrastructure” are used in the same sentence, the nod is toward private sector construction workers and unionised utility and transportation companies.

That’s true whether it’s democrats or republicans doing the talking. So far, Biden’s slim “universal broadband” statement differs little from Donald Trump’s policy. He, too, eventually included broadband in his infrastructure spending promises. Less than six months after he was inaugurated, Trump told an Iowa audience that a sizeable chunk of his trillion dollar infrastructure spending plan would “promote and foster enhanced broadband access for rural America”.

What we eventually got was a billion or so for the federal agriculture department’s ReConnect program, which has yet to approve any Californian projects, and $20 billion in Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) subsidies, which are being auctioned off by the Federal Communications Commission now. Both programs were lineal descendants of rural development and universal service programs funded over decades by republican and democrat administrations.

It’s too soon to bet on anything different coming in the next four years.