A $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill is making its way through Congress. While details are still being hammered out, it currently includes a $65 billion investment aimed at getting broadband internet to all Americans. The spending is directed both to creating broadband internet in (mostly rural) areas where it currently does not exist, as well as providing financial assistance to low-income Americans to subscribe to available broadband services.
We wondered what the country thinks about universal broadband access. Is this a task for the federal government, and if so how? Or should this be left to local governments or the private sector. We asked over 10,000 ActiVote users the question and gave them five answers to pick from:
- The government should build a national internet directly to ensure that motives of private companies cannot interfere.
- The FCC should approach this as they did for telephone in the 40s with loans and grants.
- Local municipalities should be allowed to build their own internet service to serve their communities.
- The government should focus on providing libraries and government buildings in these areas with services which should be made open to the public.
- The government should not interfere with private business which will find innovative ways on its own to solve this problem.
It turns out that almost half the nation (48%) prefer an active role of the federal government either through a government built service (28%) or loans and grants through the FCC (20%). On the other hand, 25% believe we should leave this to private businesses, 10% think access through libraries and government buildings is sufficient. The remaining 16% believe that local governments should handle it.
Older voters would like to see more government action than younger voters: about 55% of voters 50 and over would like to see a big role of the federal government, while only 44% of younger voters agree with that approach.
There is a partisan difference, with 37% of Republicans wanting to leave it to the market to provide broadband access, while only 9% of Democrats believe in that approach. Still, 42% of Republican believe in direct involvement of the Federal government, showing that many don’t wish to just wait for the markets to handle the issue.
While there are some differences of opinion between the two parties, the differences are smaller than for many other topics. Perhaps the fact that Democrats support government investment traditionally, but often live in cities with typically better broadband access already, while Republicans rather leave things to the private sector, but more often live in areas struggling with broadband access, helps make this more of a bipartisan issue than many others.
Whatever the reasoning of each individual, Universal Broadband Access is supported by majorities of all backgrounds. Therefore, if the bipartisan infrastructure bill will somehow get derailed in the coming days or weeks, it is unlikely to be over Broadband Access.