Earlier this week, CivSource reported on the latest attack on municipal broadband in Missouri. That bill and others supported by telecommunications industry interests, have been cropping up in state legislatures all over the nation with the same goal: putting a stop to municipal broadband networks even in areas where the private sector broadband providers have no plans to build. Today, President Obama released a new report and remarks announcing his support for municipal broadband networks.
“Laws in 19 states—some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors—have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity,” the report said. “Today President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband, formally opposing measures that limit the range of options to available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks. As a first step, the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.”
The report was part of the President’s pre-State of the Union tour, which included a trip to Cedar Falls, Iowa – a city with its own successful municipal broadband network.
Critics and telecommunications companies say that municipal broadband creates unfair competition for private sector companies. Most of the language in the bills making the rounds on this issue seek to limit that competition by making it very difficult for municipalities to build their own infrastructure. Still, these same companies have also been very upfront in saying that the economics of providing broadband in small towns doesn’t always work out.
Consolidation among providers of broadband service has also meant that communities often find themselves without many options. Even where private networks exist, single providers may manage entire areas making for a competition-free market experience for consumers.
“Broadband matters, but a lot of us have a common, frustrating experience,” said Jeff Zients, director of the White House’s National Economic Council, during a conference call with reporters.
The move by President Obama to support municipal broadband networks marks the second time in the past few months he has come out in support of recognizing broadband as a utility. In his comments, President Obama also pointed to other high profile municipal broadband success cases like Chattanooga, Tennessee. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has also voiced his support for municipal broadband and the FCC is currently looking into laws that curb access to municipal networks.
“Kudos to President Obama,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC Commissioner now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. Common Cause is a nonpartisan group focused on civic life. “Special interests have choked off broadband competition, consigning American consumers to high prices and piddling speeds. The FCC should move decisively to set aside these anticompetitive, anticonsumer rules.”
Watch the video released by the white house: