WASHINGTON – Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is proposing breaking up internet service providers such as AT&T and Comcast in his new plan to expand Internet access.
“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,” he wrote in the plan released Friday.
Sanders argues that high-speed Internet is “a basic human right” and that existing providers should be regulated by the government as a utility – similar to electricity. His plan would also provide $150 billion in grants and technical assistance for cities and municipalities to build their own publicly-owned networks as part of the Green New Deal infrastructure initiative.
Amazon, Google and Facebook have been familiar choices of corporate punching bags for Democrats this election cycle – but Sanders’ tough talk suggests that the Internet service providers may soon be another foil for liberals seeking to rein in corporate power.
If Sanders’ position gains traction, telecom giants could soon find themselves in a similar position to healthcare industry players fighting against Medicare-for-all or public option proposals popular on the trail.
“Internet, telecom, and cable monopolies exploit their dominant market power to gouge consumers and lobby government at all levels to keep out competition,” Sanders wrote.
Sanders makes the case that corporate consolidation has contributed to high prices for Internet and a lack of availability in some areas. He would require that all Internet service providers offer a “Basic Internet Plan” that “provides quality broadband speeds at an affordable price.”
Sanders, who haslong called forbreaking up monopolies, would bar service providers from also offering content, which could end up unwinding some significant telecom mergers. It could mark a major shake-up for companies such as AT&T – which recently acquired Time Warner, the owner of services including HBO and Warner Bros. Comcast could potentially have to divest from NBC Universal. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has also criticized AT&T’s merger with Time Warner.
Sanders is also taking aim at some of the companies’ practices that are unpopular with consumers. He’s seeking to eliminate hidden fees, including surprise billing. His plan would also require Internet and cable providers to clearly state the cost of service, ban unexpected rate increases and end service termination fees.
Broadband access hasn’t received much air time on the debate stage this election cycle, but that could change this month. The candidates are heading into primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire where there are rural areas with limited Internet choices. Other 2020 candidates have also released plans to expand broadband, but Sanders’ aggressive proposals could spark greater debate.
Warren proposed an $85 billion investment in public broadband earlier this year — only a fraction of the amount Sanders has proposed. South Bend, Indiana., Mayor Pete Buttigieg has pitched a $80 billion “Internet for All” plan to build public options in the regions that private companies don’t cover. Former vice president Joe Biden has said he would invest $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., outlined Internet access as a key focus of her infrastructure plan, saying she would provide greater incentives for existing providers to ensure underserved areas are covered.
Internet access could prove to be an issue that Democrats use to hammer the Trump campaign’s ability to keep its promises with rural voters. The Trump campaign in 2016 said it would deliver rural braodband as part of a broader infrastructure initiative, which has stalled in Congress.
“I see that the country of Iceland has all hooked up, and we’re not,” Klobuchar told Politico earlier this year when asked about Trump’s record.