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Obama Wants Cities to Build Broadband Networks

14 Jan, 2015 By: Erik Gruenwedel

President pushing to end select state laws that forbid cities from developing broadband networks

President Obama Jan. 14 in Cedar Falls, Iowa, will announce steps he will discuss in the State of the Union speech to help cities around the country to develop their own broadband infrastructure.

Obama, who has already come out in support of new net neutrality guidelines being considered by the Federal Communications Commission, contends Internet access should be regulated as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Opponents say doing that would hinder broadband investment, wouldn’t address tiered pricing for faster streaming, but would pile on unneeded regulation — and ultimately higher costs to the end user.

Cedar Falls, in addition to Chattanooga, Tenn., Kansas City, Mo., and Lafayette, La., have developed local broadband networks delivering Internet speeds nearly 100 times faster than the national average — and at an affordable price, according to federal officials.

Currently, broadband is largely available through major ISPs such as AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable, among others.

In 2010, the FCC defined basic broadband having at least 4 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 1 Mbps upload. It would now like to revise that upward as high as 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Localizing broadband access, officials say, would invite marketplace competition leveraging municipal investments and forming new partnerships to bring high-speed Internet to the city level.

Stymying that are laws in 19 states — some, the White House says, specifically written by special interest groups — that forbid cities from developing their own broadband access.

To achieve that, Obama is filing a letter with the FCC urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens. The president will also seek to expand national movements of local leaders seeking to expand broadband access.

The president is calling for the removal all “unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition,” and is establishing a new “broadband opportunity council” of more than a dozen government agencies with the goal of speeding up broadband deployment.

“Hundreds of cities have realized that they are better served by investing in themselves rather than waiting for the cable monopoly to improve its service,” Chris Mitchell, community broadband networks director with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a public advocacy group on telecommunications issues, said in a statement.

The group says at least 89 cities have a citywide fiber-to-the-home network owned by local government. More than 180 communities have invested in publicly owned fiber optic connections to part of the town, including businesses and/or residents. Another 76 communities have citywide cable networks, often built before 2000.

"At the grassroots level, there is no doubt that Republicans, Independents and Democrats all believe these decisions should be made by local governments,” Mitchell said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture will reopen a revamped broadband loan program, which offers financing to eligible rural carriers that invest in bringing high-speed broadband to unserved and underserved rural areas.

In June, the White House will host a community broadband summit of mayors and county commissioners from around the nation. These efforts will also build on the “US Ignite” partnership, launched by the White House in 2012, and which includes more than 65 research universities and 35 cities in developing new next-generation gigabit applications.

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