Vermont Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders unveiled plans to launch publicly-funded broadband networks and break up big internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T Thursday. “Their greed must end,” the Sanders campaign wrote in its high-speed internet policy proposal.
The campaign argued that high-speed internet access should be treated as a public utility, and not left to private companies. “Our tax dollars built the internet and access to it should be a public good for all, not another price gouging profit machine for Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon,” it wrote.
Much of the proposal centers on ways to bring better and faster internet access to underserved markets, including rural areas and communities of color. Sanders and his campaign blamed internet providers for not serving these communities adequately, and for making fast internet access unaffordable to low-income users.
“The internet in this country costs too damn much,” the proposal reads. “The United States ranks 10th of 28 countries in average broadband speeds and 18th out of 23 countries in fixed broadband prices, charging double the prices of many peer countries.”
Part of the proposed remedy are subsidies of up to $150 billion to local municipalities and States that want to build out their own, publicly-owned broadband networks.
The idea of local, publicly-owned broadband networks is not new, but has in the past faced strong opposition from internet providers, including lobbying efforts to pass state laws that make it harder to build these kinds of networks. Sanders said that he’d preempt such laws, and take action against some of the companies pushing for their passage.
“Telecom and cable monopolies exploit their dominant market power to gouge consumers and lobby government at all levels to keep out competition. Just four companies control nearly two-thirds of the entire market,” the proposal reads. But instead of just forcing internet providers to divest from some of their access business, Sanders plans to hit them where it hurts — and effectively roll back much of the media consolidation of the past couple of years.
Not only does his proposal call for the full reinstatement of net neutrality and for classifying broadband as a public utility, but Sanders also threatened to “unwind anticompetitive vertical conglomerates” and bar internet service providers from also providing content.
Notably absent from the proposal is any mention of mobile access, resulting in vastly different implications for Comcast and Verizon, for instance. Verizon ended Q3 of 2019 with less than 6 million broadband subscribers, whereas Comcast had nearly 26 million broadband customers at the end of the same quarter.
A Comcast spokesperson declined to comment when contacted by Variety. AT&T and Verizon didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.