But Levin, a former FCC official, said municipalities have no cost advantages over cable or telecommunications companies. So the economy does not support the idea that a municipality can provide a service at a substantially lower price. (And local legislators may not be that interested, given the other demands of local governments. “If I were on the city council, I’m not sure I’d give my money to that,” Levin noted.
That places the effort to expand broadband penetration in one of the most challenging areas of American politics: the debate over what is often disparagingly called “well-being.”
Experts like Levin argue that moving closer to universal broadband use will likely require offering a permanent subsidy to make the service affordable for low-income families. And the government would have to persuade those households to subscribe to broadband by providing online services that are valuable to low-income families (in, for example, health, education, and employment) and helping them figure out how to use the technology. .
There isn’t much of this in Biden’s infrastructure proposal. A White House fact sheet said permanent subsidies “were not the right long-term solution for consumers or taxpayers.”
Also, the subsidies are not good. Only 36 percent of rural adults say the government should provide subsidies to help low-income Americans purchase high-speed residential Internet service. That compares with 50 percent of urban residents and 43 percent of suburban residents, according to a 2017 Pew survey.
In early May, the federal government began a temporary $ 3.2 billion program to provide a $ 50 or $ 75 a month subsidy for low-income families to pay for broadband service. It is scheduled to expire when the money runs out or six months after the end of the pandemic is declared, whichever comes first.
If made permanent, this could be a game changer for many American families. But such a subsidy could add up to between $ 8.4 billion and $ 12 billion a year or more for 14 million households.