Pete Buttigieg echoes Warren with $80B rural broadband plan

Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg has unveiled his plan to address the broadband gap in this country: an $80 billion “Internet for All” initiative and set of related reforms. It echoes Senator Elizabeth Warren’s (D-MA) announcement last week, which is, generally speaking, a good thing.

It’s detailed in a document entitled “Investing in an American Asset: Unleashing the Potential of Rural America,” which feels like it may rub people the wrong way. It seems to imply that rural America is an “asset” to the rest of America, and that its potential has not yet been unleashed. But that’s just a tone thing.

There are a number of programs in there worth looking at if you’re interested in the economy of rural areas and how it might be spurred or revitalized (for instance paying teachers better), but the internet access portion is the most relevant for tech.

Buttigieg’s main promise is to “expand access to all currently unserved and underserved communities,” including a “public option” where private companies have failed to provide coverage.

That gets broken down into a few sub-goals. First is to revamp the way we measure and track broadband access, since the current system “is inaccurate and perpetuates inequity.” It’s important this isn’t overlooked in anyone’s plan, since this is how we officially make decisions like where to spend federal dollars on connectivity.

Like Warren, Buttigieg wants to remove the impediments to public and municipal broadband options that have been put in place over the years. This will allow “community-driven broadband networks, such as public-private partnerships, rural co-ops or municipally owned broadband networks” to move forward without legal challenges. A new Broadband Incubator Office will help roll these out, and the $80 billion will help bankroll them.

Net neutrality gets a bullet point as well — “Given the FCC’s volatility on this issue, Pete believes that legislation will ultimately be necessary,” the document reads. That’s frank, and while Warren and others have spoken out in favor of an FCC solution, it is likely that legislation will eventually come around and hopefully solve the issue once and for all.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was the first to make net neutrality a campaign promise, though most of the candidates have expressed support for the rule in the past.

The plan is a little less specific than Warren’s, but the truth is any plan involving this amount of money and complexity is going to necessarily be a bit vague at first. Demonstrating priorities and openness to ideas and methods is the important part, as well as throwing out a giant number like $80 billion. The specifics are unlikely to see much debate until one of these people is in the Oval Office.

“To ensure greater opportunity for all, we must make a massive investment in Internet access” summarizes the Buttigieg plan pretty well. You can read the full plan here or below.

Pete Buttigieg Rural Economy by TechCrunch on Scribd