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Pew: Democrats, Republicans Divided Over Municipal Broadband

There is a big political divide about how best to close the digital divide. That is according to a new Pew Research Center study on broadband adoption.

The study found that only 44% of Americans think the government should subsidize broadband for lower-income households, with 55% saying that it is affordable enough so that nearly every households should be able to buy it. But that is driven by something of a partisan divide.

According to the study, conducted March 13-17 among 4,151 U.S. adults, 60% of Democrats and independents say that the government should "help lower income Americans purchase high-speed Internet," while only 24% of Republicans do.

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%), with only 3% saying it was not important (another 6% said "not too important"). 

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

Under Democratic FCC chairman 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 most recent Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler also tried to preempt state laws limiting municipal broadband buildouts using taxpayer money, something also questioned by Republicans and thrown out by a federal court. 

Pew said it found that a large majority (70%) of those asked said they believed 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 that municipal broadband networks should not be allowed. 

Pew pointed out in the survey that current FCC chairman Ajit Pai recently scaled back a broadband subsidy program—the Lifeline 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 regs.

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

(Photo via Frankieleon's FlickrImage taken on Feb. 14, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.