Is Biden's broadband plan realistic?

Biden says broadband is "not a luxury anymore," but some say the tech will be "obsolete by the time it's built"

biden broadband plan
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

President Biden this week announced a $42 billion push to expand high-speed internet access to 8.3 million homes and businesses across the country that lack broadband connections. Biden said the project is as important as the federal effort to connect isolated farming communities to electricity in the late 1930s. "It's the biggest investment in high-speed internet ever, because for today's economy to work for everyone, internet access is just as important as electricity or water or other basic services," Biden said.

The money for the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program, known as BEAD, was included in the huge infrastructure spending package Congress approved in 2021. The Commerce Department has now officially decided how it will distribute the funding over the next two years, with grants ranging from $27 million for the U.S. Virgin Islands to $3.3 billion for Texas. Every state will be getting at least $107 million, according to Reuters. "For so long, we have clutched pearls and wrung our hands out over there not being broadband in rural communities," said Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel in The Washington Post. "Now we finally have the data and dollars to do something about it."

Supporters of the plan say the coronavirus pandemic, which forced Americans to work, play, and study online, demonstrated the need to expand fast internet connections to all, in the interest of fairness. A 2021 Pew Research Center survey found that 60% of lower-income broadband users reported that slow connections sometimes made it hard for them to use online services during the pandemic. The plan is to ensure universal access by 2030. Is that possible, and is it worth the price?

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'One of the most vital tools of modern living'

"Stop! Hold the phone. We have bipartisan agreement," said the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in an editorial. Biden says broadband is "not a luxury anymore," and Arkansas' Republican governor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, says closing the gap between rural and urban communities will be "transformational." They're both right. Arkansas, a state of 3 million, has 215,000 homes and businesses that "fall short" of the administration's goal to get reliable service of 25 megabits per second or more for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads. "That's a significant chunk of affected people and businesses." Building out the network to include them is the only way to keep up with "the pace of business in the 21st century."

You can't put a price on fairness, said the Springfield, Massachusetts, Republican in an editorial. One study found that 54% of Springfield residents lack reliable internet. "That puts individuals and families on an uneven, and unfair, playing field, when it comes to seeking and performing jobs. It also disadvantages city residents who are unable to access telehealth care." This project is money well spent from the point of view of people facing barriers because they don't have the connections or devices to get online. "The expanding federal commitment ensures that more and more" Americans who have been left behind "will be able to take advantage of one of the most vital tools of modern living."

'An obscene amount of money'

This "is an obscene amount of money to invest in technology that will be obsolete by the time it's built," said Ronald Bailey at Reason. BEAD defines high-speed internet service as 25 Mbps download speeds. But 90.5% of U.S. households already have speeds of at least 100 Mbps, and America's Communication Association, which lobbies for small internet providers, expects 95% of U.S. households to have connections at least that fast by 2025, if current trends hold. That means that "private broadband companies are already providing access to faster and increasingly cheaper internet services." They can probably "finish the job well before Biden's BEAD boondoggle gets off the ground."

Delivering on the promise of universal broadband won't be easy, said Kavish Harjai at The Associated Press. States have been counting on "mostly new broadband offices" to assess their needs ahead of BEAD's official launch. And they still "must complete a multi-step process before they can use the funds." They have to "identify unserved locations that aren't already receiving money from other broadband programs," "outline plans to hire skilled workers," and figure out how the physical infrastructure can endure climate threats. They also have to make sure the new connections will be affordable. That's key, Kathryn de Wit, director of the Pew Charitable Trust's broadband access initiative, told ABC. "It's only useful if people can get online and use it," she said.

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Harold Maass

Harold Maass is a contributing editor at He has been writing for The Week since the 2001 launch of the U.S. print edition. Harold has worked for a variety of news outlets, including The Miami Herald, Fox News, and ABC News. For several years, he wrote a daily round-up of financial news for The Week and Yahoo Finance. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and two sons.