In the Trenches of Broadband Policy: 2023 Year In Review

Deeplinks 2023-12-29


EFF has long advocated for affordable, accessible, future-proof internet access for all. Nearly 80% of Americans already consider internet access to be as essential as water and electricity, so as our work, health services, education, entertainment, social lives, etc. increasingly have an online component, we cannot accept a future where the quality of your internet access—and so the quality of your connection to these crucial facets of your life—is determined by geographic, socioeconomic, or otherwise divided lines. 

Lawmakers recognized this during the pandemic and set in motion once-in-a-generation opportunities to build the future-proof fiber infrastructure needed to close the digital divide once and for all.

As we exit the pandemic however, that dedication is wavering. Monopolistic internet service providers (ISPs), with business models that created the digital divide in the first place, are doing everything they can to maintain control over the broadband market—including stopping the construction of any infrastructure they do not control. Further, while some government agencies are continuing to make rules to advance equitable and competitive access to broadband, others have not. Regardless, EFF will continue to fight for the vision we’ve long advocated.

New York City Abandons Revolutionary Fiber Plan 

This year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams turned his back on the future of broadband accessibility for New Yorkers.

In 2020, then Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled New York City’s Internet Master Plan to deliver broadband to low-income New Yorkers by investing in public fiber infrastructure. Public fiber infrastructure would have been an investment in New York City’s future, a long-term solution to permanently bridge the digital divide and bring affordable, accessible future-proof service to New Yorkers for generations to come. This kind of public infrastructure, especially if provisioned on an open and affordable basis dramatically lowers barriers to entry, which in turn creates competition, lower prices, and better customer service in the market as a whole.

Mayor Eric Adams not only abandoned this plan, but subsequently introduced a three-year $90 million dollar subsidy plan called Big Apple Connect. Instead of building physical infrastructure to bridge the digital divide for decades to come, New York City will now subsidize NYC’s oligopolist ISPs, Charter Spectrum and Altice, to continue doing business as usual. This does nothing to address the needs of underinvested communities whose legacy networks physically cannot handle a fast connection. All it does is put taxpayer dollars into corporate pockets instead of into infrastructure that actually serves the people.

The Adams administration even asked a cooperatively-run community based ISP that had been a part of the Internet Master Plan and had already installed fiber infrastructure to dismantle their network so the city can further contract with the big ISPs.

California Wavers On Its Commitments

New York City is not the only place public commitment to bridging the digital divide has wavered. 

In 2021, California invested nearly $7 billion to bring affordable fiber infrastructure to all Californians. As part of this process California’s Department of Technology was meant to build 10,000 miles of middle-mile fiber infrastructure, the physical foundation through which community-level last mile connections would be built to serve underserved communities for decades to come.

Unfortunately, in August the Department of Technology not only reduced the number of miles to be built but also cut off entire communities that had traditionally been underserved. Despite fierce


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Chao Liu

Date tagged:

12/29/2023, 19:01

Date published:

12/29/2023, 14:31