Bernie Sanders has a $150 billion plan to turn the internet into a public utility with low prices and fast speeds — here’s how his plan works

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, has a $150 billion four-point plan that would fundamentally transform how the internet works in the United States.
  • The plan would effectively turn the internet into a publicly provided utility, similar to how water and power are distributed.
  • The broadest goal of the proposal is to provide every American with access to affordable high-speed internet. “High-speed internet service must be treated as the new electricity,” the proposal says, “a public utility that everyone deserves as a basic human right.”
  • Here’s how Bernie thinks it can be done.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, last month unveiled a sweeping $150 billion proposal that would fundamentally reshape how the internet works in the United States.

The plan, dubbed “High-Speed Internet for All,” would effectively turn the internet into a public utility along the lines of water and power. “High-speed internet service must be treated as the new electricity,” the proposal says, “a public utility that everyone deserves as a basic human right.”

To that end, the $150 billion would go to creating “publicly owned and democratically controlled, co-operative, or open access broadband networks,” the proposal says.

Here’s how it works:


1. Requiring internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast to offer “a Basic Internet Plan that provides quality broadband speeds at an affordable price.”

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Hero Images/Getty Images

The core of Sanders’ high-speed-internet plan is to provide internet for everyone in an affordable way.

Its primary method of doing that: regulations from the Federal Communications Commission.

“The FCC will review prices and regulate rates where necessary, ensuring areas without competition aren’t able to run up prices,” the plan says. “We will also require providers to offer a basic plan for a regulated rate to all customers, ensuring everyone will be able to affordably connect to the internet.”

The “providers” in question are massive media conglomerates like Verizon, Comcast, and Charter. “Bernie will regulate these providers like a utility,” it says.

The proposal includes further subsidies for people who qualify for government assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and it proposes free broadband in all public housing.


2. Redefining “minimum broadband speeds” so that a 100 Mbps download speed and a 10 Mbps upload speed is the floor.

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Internet speeds by state as of April 2019.
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HighSpeedInternet.com

Calling for “high-speed broadband” doesn’t mean much if your definition of “fast” internet is stuck in the past. The current FCC minimum to be considered broadband is 25 Mbps down/3 Mbps up.

It works, and it gets the job done well enough, but it’s a slouch compared with many other parts of the world. Under Sanders’ proposal, the FCC would increase its minimum to 100 Mbps down/10 Mbps up.

It’s a little detail that makes a big difference in the broader plan, as it guarantees a base internet speed.


3. Breaking up companies that offer internet service and provide content, like Comcast and AT&T.

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Reuters

Over the past several decades, the telecommunications industry has consolidated into a few major players who provide internet access, and those companies have in turn merged with major media companies. The resulting giants will sell you the internet and cable service you use and provide the content that runs on those services.

Under Sanders’ proposal, these conglomerates would be broken apart.

The proposal says Sanders would use “existing antitrust authority,” rather than the FCC, to dismantle “internet service provider and cable monopolies.” Moreover, he would “bar service providers from also providing content.”

Comcast, which owns NBC, and AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia (HBO, Turner, Warner Bros.), would likely have to unwind those purchases.


4. Providing $150 billion to create “publicly owned and democratically controlled, co-operative, or open access broadband networks.”

While it enforces regulations on major internet service providers, the proposal includes a major expenditure: $150 billion to create “the necessary resilient, modern infrastructure” for high-speed broadband that’s widely available and affordable.

The money, part of the broader Green New Deal initiative, is intended “for municipalities and/or states to build publicly owned and democratically controlled, co-operative, or open access broadband networks,” the proposal says.

One major condition is included: Grants from the funding must go “toward creating good-paying union jobs” and come with rigorous standards.


5. Ending data caps and speed throttling.

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Paramount Pictures

Another notable detail in the proposal: putting an end to data caps and speed throttling.

As people stream more content and download larger, higher-definition movies, TV shows, and games, they use more data. Just as that amount has increased, some internet service providers have begun placing caps on users – 200 GB per month, for example. If you go over your cap, there’s a chance you’ll get slapped with a charge.

In some cases, your provider may even “throttle” your service speed in an attempt to dissuade you from using it. The proposal from the Sanders campaign explicitly calls for the elimination of both practices.