Biden’s infrastructure plan could fix America’s broadband problem

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President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure plan could solve the country’s broadband problem. The $2 trillion American Jobs Plan, details of which were released March 31, would commit $100 billion to expand broadband access to all Americans. 

The plan would prioritize support for broadband networks owned or operated by cooperatives, nonprofits and local governments, similar to how electric cooperatives helped bring power to rural America in the 1930s and ’40s.

Farm and Dairy reported in the past that getting broadband access to all unserved homes in the country would cost about $80 billion. More than 800,000 Pennsylvania, 65% of whom live in rural areas, lack access to reliable, high-speed internet. In Ohio, that number is closer to 1 million.

“It’s going to create the strongest, most resilient, innovative economy in the world,” Biden said, in a speech made in Pittsburgh. “It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges. It’s a once in a generation investment in America.”

Other investments

Broadband was not the only item of note for rural communities. The plan also included:

  • $100 billion is going to energy infrastructure improvements to help the U.S. hit the goal of having carbon free electricity by 2035. Of that, $16 billion is aimed at plugging orphan gas and oil wells and cleaning up abandoned mine land. 
  • $100 billion to workforce development, including $40 billion to retrain dislocated workers for new sectors like clean energy, manufacturing and caregiving and $48 billion to create new apprenticeship slots and beef up career pathway programs at schools.
  • $621 billion to transportation infrastructure. That includes fixing 20,000 miles of road and 10,000 bridges, $80 billion to improve passenger and freight rail service and $174 billion to boost the domestic electric vehicle market.
  • $111 billion to ensure clean drinking water, including $45 billion to replace all lead pipes and services lines in the country, $56 billion to upgrade drinking water, wastewater and stormwater systems and $10 billion to monitor and remediate per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in drinking water and invest in rural water systems.
  • $180 billion for research and development, including $40 billion in upgrading research labs and $35 billion on a “full range of solutions needed to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis and position America as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs.”
  • $300 billion for manufacturing to promote the domestic production of goods, jump start clean energy manufacturing and strengthen supply chains.

To pay for all this work, Biden proposed hiking the corporate tax rate and make other changes to corporate tax structures that would, the White House claims, raise $2 trillion over 15 years.

Reaction

Environmental groups lauded the plan, as did ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition of more than 100 grassroots organizations in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. Amanda Woodrum, senior analyst for Policy Matters Ohio, said Biden’s plan shares many key elements of ReImagine Appalachia’s plan to build and modernize infrastructure, repair the land and create jobs through public investment in the Ohio River Valley.

“Biden’s plan gets it right by leading with ambition, scale and vision that will go a long way for Pennsylvania’s economy and environmental future,” said PennFuture president and chief executive officer Jacquelyn Bonomo, in a statement. PennFuture is a founding member of ReImagine Appalachia. 

National Farmers Union president Rob Larew said in a statement that he was encouraged by the plan and hoped it would strengthen rural communities.

The oil and gas industry said it supports modernizing infrastructure and welcomes the administration’s efforts to address climate change, but the American Petroleum Institute said the plan misses the mark by leaving pipelines out of the plan. Similarly, Marcellus Shale Coalition president David Callahan urged Biden not to forget about natural gas infrastructure and the fuel’s role in the nation’s future prosperity.

Frank Macchiarola, API’s senior vice president of policy, economic and regulatory affairs, also said targeting specific industries with new taxes will undermine the nation’s economic recovery.

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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