It’s no secret that President Biden sees himself as a 21st-century version of the Democratic Party’s three-letter icons that transformed American society: FDR and LBJ. According to Axios, President Biden hosted a private meeting at the White House with leading presidential historians this week. The conversations ranged from LBJ’s Great Society reforms (1965) to Washington’s signing of the Jay Treaty (1794) (of note, drafted mainly by Alexander Hamilton).
President Biden is prepared to “go big” and enact sweeping reforms on permanent child tax credits, tighter gun restrictions, stricter climate regulations, and massive rural broadband expansion. Many of these actions will likely be pursued in Biden’s $3 trillion infrastructure plan, spearheaded by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. It’s unclear whether rural broadband will be included in this massive legislation or addressed in a separate bill. In December 2020, Democrats introduced The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which called for $94 billion to connect “unserved and underserved communities with affordable high-speed internet access.”
Republicans representing rural districts in need of more reliable broadband should take note and consider areas of agreement and disagreement with Democrats in the House and Senate. In light of the recent string of expensive stimulus packages, Congress could use more fiscally responsible arguments to specify federal funds’ purpose and allocation. Visiting Fellow Dan Lips has noted repeatedly that proper government oversight is always necessary, regardless of which party holds power.
Access to rural broadband is increasingly a health care issue. Visiting Fellow Robert Bryce and I wrote on this topic in Health Affairs last October. As financially strapped rural hospitals close by the dozens — including 180 since 2005 and 20 in 2020 — the ability to seek telehealth services will become essential for rural patients to receive consistent medical care. Simply put, you cannot have telehealth without reliable broadband.
There may be more effective ways to grow rural broadband than government subsidies alone. But policymakers and telecom executives representing these rural — and predominantly Republican — areas need to assess best paths forward as the Biden administration proposes trillions in new legislation. Rural constituents need their Congressional members engaged in the legislative process to ensure that they aren’t further left behind.