As President Joe Biden seeks reelection in 2024, domestic economic investment has become a core part of his campaign. Referencing his successes in a recent ‘Bidenomics’ speech in Chicago, Biden touted the benefits of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. One of the positive developments from this legislation includes a renewed focus on broadband internet, with the Department of Commerce recently announcing fund amounts for all 50 states and the US territories. This internet access proposal diverts $42.5 billion for digital infrastructure, reflecting an important shift as the Biden Administration seeks to modernize communications and business in the territories.
The Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) Program, a grant system created by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will distribute funds and implement the critical steps of Biden’s Internet For All Plan. To achieve affordable internet for all residents by 2030, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) developed guidelines for the US territories. Significantly, the NTIA recommends that the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) facilitate broadband development and construction training. This policy also empowers OSHA to “select national nonprofits to deliver occupational safety and health training for all levels of workers,” representing a renewed focus on public-private partnerships. This collaboration between local civil society organizations and government agencies is a positive trend for the territories, which are often victims of rigid, one-size-fits-all federal policies. The Biden Administration and BEAD leaders intend to resolve the flaws of programs such as PROMESA, which some advocates argue may reaffirm neocolonialism.
Biden looks to correct another past flaw of federal investment in the territories: underfunding. Notably, only 43.8% of American Samoans have reliable internet access, illustrating the importance of adequate fiscal resources. Therefore, BEAD relied on comprehensive data analysis to determine unique funding amounts for each territory’s infrastructure needs. All five US territories will use this initial monetary package to improve managerial capacity, extend communications with local communities, and foster research in underserved areas. The investment which each territory received is as follows:
- Puerto Rico: $334,614,151.70
- Guam: $156,831,733.59
- Northern Mariana Islands: $80,796,709.02
- American Samoa: $37,564,827.53
- US Virgin Islands: $27,103,240.86
Along with BEAD, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law finances other essential projects to expand broadband accessibility. For example, the Biden Administration plans to provide $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP dispenses $30 monthly to certain households for internet expenses and currently helps 19 million Americans—and over 600,000 Puerto Ricans—pay for digital services. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission will spend $7 billion for its Emergency Connectivity Fund to supply schools and libraries with 10.5 million connected devices.
As 67% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy, the President hopes these major expenditures in internet connectivity will reverse popular opinion and catalyze sustainable post-pandemic growth. As Biden explained in an address last Monday, this new project is “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.”Despite Biden’s idealistic claims, some critics remain skeptical. In particular, America’s Communication Association projects that 95% of Americans—including those in the territories—will expect 100 Mbps download speeds by 2025. However, BEAD aims to achieve 25 Mbps by 2030, meaning Biden’s ‘high-speed’ internet program may prove obsolete at the time of its completion. Further, BEAD must address persistent concerns over its plan’s climate impact, financial feasibility, and timeliness. As the 2024 presidential election approaches, the Biden Administration will look to dispel these doubts.