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Biden calls for $100 billion to expand U.S. broadband access

U.S. President Joe Biden gives a thumbs-up as he boards Air Force One to return to Washington from Pittsburgh International Airport in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Wednesday called on Congress to spend $100 billion over eight years to expand high-speed broadband access to the entire United States - and said his plan aims to lower prices and steers funding away from companies providing internet.

“Americans pay too much for internet service. We’re going to drive down the price for families who have service now,” Biden said in a speech in Pittsburgh after the release of his $2 trillion-plus proposal for federal government investment.

The White House said Biden’s plan would build “future proof” broadband infrastructure in unserved areas and focus support on networks “owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives” and noted they have “less pressure to turn profits.”

Michael Powell, who heads the industry trade group NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, said the White House “risks taking a serious wrong turn in discarding decades of successful policy by suggesting that the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet.”

Powell said that while government does have a role in getting networks to under-served areas and to help low-income families afford them, it was wrong “either to prioritize government-owned networks or micromanage private networks, including the unfounded assertion that the government should be managing prices.”

The Federal Communications Commission said in January that the number of people without access to internet of speeds at least 25/3 Mbps had fallen to around 14.5 million at the end of 2019.

A group of U.S. senators earlier this month said in a letter to the White House that the current high-speed standard of 25 megabits per second and upload speeds of up to 3 megabits is insufficient, urging support for a goal of 100 megabits per second.

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel tweeted: “Broadband for 100%. I’m all in.”

Advocacy group Public Knowledge praised the Biden plan for recognizing “high-speed, affordable broadband is an essential service that people need to thrive in modern society.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool