Obama wants the FCC to support local broadband

President Barack Obama will focus on how to overturn anti-municipal broadband laws as a key topic when he visits Cedar Falls, Iowa, a town that has built a successful fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network that delivers 1 Gbps service to consumers and business customers.

The president plans to talk about "how we can get families faster, cheaper access to the broadband that allows them to successfully compete in this global economy."

In tandem with his speech, the White House released a new report outlining community-based broadband solutions and how consumers can benefit from local competition.

"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," the report said. "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."

One of the interesting revelations of Obama's report is that while 94 percent of U.S. citizens in urban Tier-1 cities can purchase a 25 Mbps connection from a cable operator or a traditional telco, only 51 percent of consumers in rural areas can get these speeds.

"Nearly 40 percent of American households either cannot purchase a fixed 10 Mbps connection (i.e. a wired, land-based connection), or they must buy it from a single provider," the report said. "Three out of four Americans do not have a choice between providers for Internet at 25 Mbps, the speed increasingly recognized as a baseline to get the full benefits of Internet access."

Despite the president's sentiment, he is facing a very strong anti-municipal broadband movement. Today, there are 19 U.S. states that have anti-municipal broadband laws on the books.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told The New York Times that Obama's efforts will be met with the powerful cable and telecom service provider industries.  

"The telecom companies have spent millions of dollars in state legislatures to promote these limits," said Mitchell, "and anything that's pro-competition from the administration is very upsetting to them."

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has also been an ardent supporter of municipal broadband networks. In May, Wheeler made a call to challenge more than 20 state laws that prevent or discourage municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

Later in June, Wheeler challenged a Tennessee law that prohibits the state's cities and towns from building their own fiber-based networks, particularly in areas where a telco or cable MSO already provides service. He cited the work that Chattanooga, Tenn.-based utility EPB has done with its 1 Gbps FTTH network. Under the current law, EPB can't extend its service into other areas outside of its existing footprint.

Even with all of the challenges that communities face in building out their own networks from local telcos and cable operators that have been slow to upgrade their existing networks to support higher speed services, the municipal broadband movement continues to be vibrant. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, there are 89 communities that have built their own a citywide FTTH network, while over 180 communities have invested in publicly owned fiber optic connections to parts of towns, including businesses and/or residents.

For more:
- The New York Times has this article
- see this report (.pdf)

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