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38 Next Century Cities Leaders Sign Letter to FCC Supporting Local Authority
President Obama suggested restoring local telecommunications authority while visiting Cedar Falls in January and a number of local elected officials were ready to back him up. Leaders from 38 members of Next Century Cities recently submitted a public letter to the FCC urging commissioners to consider local autonomy as they consider the Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, petitions.
Last summer, both communities filed with the FCC seeking relief from restrictive state laws that prevent their broadband utilities from serving surrounding communities. FCC Chairman Wheeler has spoken in support of local authority more than once. Next Century Cities, a coalition of communities that was formed specifically to advance better connectivity, writes:
We write only to urge that, as you consider these petitions, you take proper account of the importance of local choice and autonomy. The benefits of high-quality broadband are now beyond dispute: these projects have stimulated local innovation and economic development, enhanced education, improved government services, and opened new worlds of opportunity to communities and citizens. It is our hope that federal policy will support the realization of these outcomes in our communities and in towns and cities across the country, by empowering every community to meet the needs of their residents.
You can read the full letter [PDF] online to see if your elected officials signed on.
The FCC's decision on the petitions is expected in February.
Boston Globe the Latest to Support Local Authority
Yet another major news outlet has endorsed the President's position in support of local telecommunications authority. On January 26th, the Boston Globe went on record to endorse the concept, urging the FCC and Congress to work together to ensure local communities have the right to make their own connecitvity decisions.
The Globe suggested that, rather than allowing the FCC to take the lead with the Wilson and Chattanooga petition decisions, federal lawmakers take action:
A better approach would be for Congress to settle the issue itself, by preventing states from interfering with cities and towns that want to start their own Internet services.
The Globe Editors note that rural areas are the hardest hit by large corporate provider indifference, that it is those same parties that drive the state barrier bills, and that, "This status quo is bad for customers everywhere."
Globe Editors get behind a bill recently introduced by Cory Booker, Claire McCaskill, and Ed Markey that wipes out state barriers in the 19 states where they exist and prevents state lawmakers from enacting new ones. The Globe acknowledges that the support is lopsided today...:
But this shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and it isn’t one on the local level. Red states like Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Oklahoma, and Utah all have successful municipal Internet programs. Politicians tempted by campaign contributions from the telecommunications lobby, or skeptical of any proposal backed by President Obama, should remember that consumer protection is an issue that voters of all stripes support.
Los Angeles Times Supports Local Authority
President Obama's recent appearance in Cedar Falls infused adrenaline into the debate about local authority for telecommunications decisions. As a result, some of the media outlets from large cities are now coming out in support of local authority. The Editorial Board of the LA Times published an opinion on January 21st supporting the notion of restoring local authority in states where laws prevent community decision making.
The Times recognizes that rural areas will benefit most from reversing these restrictions, that the restrictions need to be removed for us to compete globally, and that there are numerous municipal networks that are up to the challenge of improving connectivity. The LA Times also recognizes the value of public-private partnerships in New York and in other places where local government has forged productive relationships with the private sector.
Editors at the LA Times boil it down to one tenet:
Regardless, the decision about whether a local agency should get into the broadband business should be left to the people who bear the risk — local officials and the people who elect them.
U.S. Senator Cory Booker Introduces Community Broadband Act
“As Mayor of Newark, I saw firsthand the value of empowering local communities to invest and innovate. The Community Broadband Act provides cities the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their residents,” Sen. Booker said. “This legislation will enhance economic development, improve access to education and health care services, and provide increased opportunity to individuals in underserved areas. At a time when local governments are looking for ways to ensure their communities are connected and have access to advanced and reliable networks, the Community Broadband Act empowers local governments to respond to this ever-increasing demand.” "Barriers at the state level are preventing communities from developing local solutions when there is little or no choice in their Internet service provider,” Sen. Markey said. “This legislation will support the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks and provide community members with high speed Internet service. I thank Senator Booker for his leadership introducing the Community Broadband Act, which will support more options in the broadband market and greater local choice. I also continue to urge the FCC to act now to use its authority to end any restrictions placed upon local communities to make these decisions for themselves.” “Folks in small towns and rural communities should have the same access as everyone else to the Internet, and the jobs and business opportunities it brings,” Sen. McCaskill said. “Large Internet providers too often aren’t willing to offer service in rural America, so this bill ensures local communities can come together to provide their residents with access to the opportunities high-speed broadband offers.”And we included this statement:
We believe these decisions about how best to expand Internet access are best made by local governments, who are most informed of the need and challenges.
Maine Legislature All About That Broadband in 2015
Maine continues to be a hot spot in the drive to improve connectivity as the 2015 state legislative session opens. According to the Bangor Daily News, 35 bills have been introduced that deal with broadband issues.
The story also notes that several lawmakers have introduced bills that propose funding from the state. House Republican Norman Higgins advocates broadband infrastructure in rural areas of the state:
“I think most people understand that in this day and age for us to be competitive, that’s one of the necessary tools,” Higgins said, noting he’s found bipartisan support on the issue. “The question, I think becomes: How do we do it? And who does it?”
He proposes allocating millions of dollars to expand the availability of grants to municipalities that want to build and own high-speed fiber-optic networks that would be open to companies that want to serve businesses and homes, similar to the model pursued by Rockport, South Portland, Orono and Old Town.
Momentum is growing outside the Senate and House Chambers as well. In December, Governor LePage asked the ConnectME Authority to consider redefining "underserved" for projects it considers funding. The Authority obliged, reported the Bangor Daily News:
The new standard set Friday includes for the first time speed requirements for uploads, which supporters of the change said would serve small businesses.
The new standard would qualify any areas with broadband connections slower than 10 megabits per second for both downloads and uploads — a 10-10 symmetric standard — as “unserved.”
For those working on the issue of broadband, the energy is contagious:
“It’s exciting as someone who cares about broadband that there’s so much energy around it,” [public advocate with the Maine’s Public Utilities Commission Timothy] Schneider said. “And it ties into this whole trying to figure out how to do economic development not based around Maine’s legacy industries.”
National Press Follows President Obama to Cedar Falls, Iowa
On January 14th, President Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to share his strategy to expand high-speed connectivity to more Americans, encourage competition, and galvanize economic development. Obama's plan centers around community networks and he announced that the next step will be eliminating barriers in 19 states that usurp local authority to invest in publicly owned infrastructure.
From his remarks [C-SPAN Video below]:
Today, I'm making my administration's position clear on community broadband. I'm saying I'm on the side of competition. And I'm on the side of small business owners... I'm on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.
The Obama Administration, through the Department of Commerce, recently sent a letter [PDF] to Chairman Wheeler to request the FCC use its authority to end state barriers that block local public investment. The Hill noted the letter and the President's speech together put gentle pressure on the FCC to take steps to restore local authority. The Hill also gave space to the cable industry, naturally opposed to restoring local authority after millions of lobbying dollars invested in passing anti-competitive legislation.
InfoWorld also pointed out cable industry opposition to the Obama proposal, noting that they were ready to mount a strong offense and will likely join Congressional Republicans to fight any roll-back of state barriers. A decision from the FCC on whether or not to change state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee is expected in February.
FACT SHEET: Broadband That Works: Promoting Competition & Local Choice In Next-Generation Connectivity
In January 2015, President Barak Obama appeared in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to present his administration's plan to encourage local choice and competition through community networks. The President's strategy includes eliminating barriers to local telecom authority that now exist in 19 states.
The Broadband That Works: Promoting Competition & Local Choice In Next-Generation Connectivity fact sheet, released by the White House Office of the Press Secretary on the eve of the appearance, provides info on several communities served by munis and the benefits they have enjoyed. The fact sheet also outlines five steps the administrations proposes to improves access, adoption, and investment.
For more detailed information, download the accompanying report by the National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors.
Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access
Affordable, reliable access to high speed broadband is critical to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. Upgrading to higher-speed broadband lets consumers use the Internet in new ways, increases the productivity of American individuals and businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem. As this report describes, while the private sector has made investments to dramatically expand broadband access in the U.S., challenges still remain. Many markets remain unserved or underserved. Others do not benefit from the kind of competition that drives down costs and improves quality. To help fill the void, hundreds of towns and cities around the country have developed their own locally-owned networks. This report describes the benefits of higher-speed broadband access, the current challenges facing the market, and the benefits of competition – including competition from community broadband networks. - Executive Summary
On January 13, 2015, President Barack Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to discuss his administration's plans to bring better connectivity to American residents and businesses. The centerpiece of his strategy involved removing state barriers to municipal networks and promoting local authority.
In tandem with that speech, the White House released this report. The report includes significant research from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, including community profiles, economic data, and the role if municipal networks in competition.
Communities included in the report are: Chattanooga; Lafayette, Louisiana; Wilson, North Carolina; Scott County, Minnesota; Leverett, Massachusetts; and the Choctaw National Tribal Area in Oklahoma.
The report also outlines President Obama's ancillary initiatives to encourage local projects and provides significant data from the ILSR Community Broadband Map.
President Obama Speaks Against Barriers to Community Networks
When we started to hear rumors that the White House was investigating community owned networks, we were excited but not sure what to expect. I have to admit that seeing President Obama - the President of the United States - saying that Cedar Falls was smart to invest in themselves was much more powerful than I ever expected (see the video below).' President Obama will visit Cedar Falls on Wednesday to address his plans to increase access to affordable, high-speed broadband across the country. Tune in at 3:40 Eastern to the White House Briefing Room to watch the live event. The efforts of so many people to legitimize community networks are now paying off. Belittled by the big cable companies and their paid experts, we certainly were not destined to reach this point. But we are here - and everyone now recognizes that local governments can play an important role in ensuring we all have great Internet access. The White House has released a fact sheet with some information on what the Executive Branch will do to increase competition and restore local authority.
Sign Up Early for A Gig in Longmont, Colorado
If you are in Longmont, you can sign up for gigabit service from LPC for only $49.95 per month. The Longmont Compass reports that customers who sign up within the first three months will retain that price point for an as yet undetermined extended period. AND, that price stays with the home if the customer sells, adding substantial value to the real estate.
The Compass also spoke with General Manager Tom Roiniotis about LPC's decision to offer Internet and voice but not video:
“Cable TV is a dying industry. People want to get the TV that they want, not the TV that the cable companies force them to get.”
When pressed for an example, Roiniotis considered sports. If you want to watch an NFL game, why should you have to pay for two hundred channels you’ll never even tune into? There is a growing consensus that audiences don’t want to watch the movie that happens to be on Showtime right now, they want to choose when to start, when to pause, and what movie they’re interested in. As he put it, “The consumer is finally becoming king in the world of TV.”
“In five years, I can see Xfinity (the Comcast content delivery network) using our fiber-optic to deliver their content,” he says. “So instead of investing another $20M in the technology to deliver cable, we save that money and let the consumers drive the future of content delivery.”
LPC began construction on the expansion in August with completion scheduled for 2017. Last fall, voters passed a referendum to bond in order to speed up construction.
Letters to the editor from Longmont locals express impatience. They want better services! P.R. Lambert recently wrote:
It's really sad that the Longmont fiber optic Internet will take so long to be installed. From what I see, the two major competitors (Comcast and Century Link) seem to believe that customers are a bother.