Elizabeth Warren outlines $85 billion rural broadband plan

By Bryan Pietsch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren outlined on Wednesday her plan to bring high-speed internet to rural and Native American communities through an $85 billion federal grant program.

In the United States, 30 percent of rural populations and 35 percent of people on tribal lands lack access to broadband, compared to 2 percent in urban areas, according to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission report.

The Warren initiative would pay for 90 percent of broadband construction costs for rural and low-income areas, the Massachusetts senator said in a statement. $5 billion of the grants would be reserved to pay 100 percent of the costs for tribal nations, she said.

Warren is one of about two dozen Democrats competing for their party’s nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 2020 election. She has sought to distinguish herself in the field by offering extensive policy proposals.

Electricity and telephone cooperatives, non-profit organizations, tribes and local governments would be eligible for the program.

Broadband access can boost local economies by enabling virtual access to healthcare providers, increasing educational opportunities and deepening market access for farmers.

The program would stipulate that grant recipients offer at least one plan with 100 Mbps speeds and a plan with low-rate or prepaid options for low-income customers.

The grant program would be managed by a new “Office of Broadband Access” in the Department of Economic Development, Warren said.

(Reporting by Bryan Pietsch)