Policy

Pew: Democrats, Republicans Divided Over Municipal Broadband

But virtually everyone agrees home Internet access is essential/important 4/10/2017 4:00 PM Eastern

There is a big political divide about how best to close the digital divide.

Only 44% of Americans think the government should subsidize broadband for lower-income households, while 55% say broadband is affordable enough that nearly every household should be able to buy it, a new Pew Research Center study on broadband adoption has found.

But those opinions are driven by something of a partisan divide, with 60% of Democrats and independents saying the government should "help lower-income Americans purchase high-speed Internet" versus just 24% of Republicans, according to the study, conducted March 13-17 among 4,151 adults in the U.S.

But everyone appears to agree that Internet access is incredibly important. Nine out of 10 surveyed said it was either essential (49%) or important (41%) versus only 3% who said it was not important and 6% who called it "not too important."

Related: FCC's Pai to Eliminate Federal Eligibility Program for Lifeline Subsidies

Under Democratic FCC chair Julius Genachowski and his Democratic successors, the FCC has been migrating billions of dollars in phone subsidies to broadband as Republicans kept an eye on what they said was potential for waste, fraud and abuse and sought to cap funding.

The FCC under its most recent Democratic chair, Tom Wheeler, also tried to pre-empt state laws limiting municipal broadband buildouts using taxpayer money, something also questioned by Republicans and thrown out by a federal court.

Pew said 70% of respondents said they believe local governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if existing service is either too costly or "not good enough," though that was not defined. Only 27% said municipal broadband networks should not be allowed.

Pew noted in the survey that new FCC chairman Ajit Pai recently scaled back the Lifeline broadband subsidy program, and President Donald Trump, who appointed Pai, had signed the Congressional Review Act resolution passed by Hill Republicans (over vocal Democratic objections) rolling back Wheeler-era broadband privacy regulations.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

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