President Obama backs municipal broadband efforts

At a speech in Cedar Falls, IA, President Barack Obama stated his support for the right of municipalities to build and operate broadband access networks. The President set up a potential showdown between the Federal Government and the governments of the 19 states that have restricted community-supplied broadband initiatives.

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At a speech yesterday in Cedar Falls, IA, President Barack Obama stated his support for the right of municipalities to build and operate broadband access networks. The President outlined a series of steps designed to make such efforts easier, setting up a potential showdown between the Federal Government and the governments of the 19 states that have restricted community-supplied broadband initiatives.

In a video posted on www.whitehouse.gov ahead of the speech, President Obama showed a chart (below) that highlighted the fact that several foreign cities have gigabit-speed networks "because they’ve made the investments in broadband." He then pointed to Cedar Falls, Kansas City, MO, and Chattanooga, TN, as examples of U.S. cities that also have gigabit access, while other major cities do not.

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The President did not note that, while Cedar Falls and Chattanooga built their own fiber-optic broadband networks, Kansas City's fiber to the home (FTTH) network is supplied by Google Fiber (see "Google begins connecting homes to Kansas City FTTH network").

"There are some steps we can take, through executive actions, that allow us to make sure that every community can do what Cedar Falls is doing," the President nevertheless said in the video. "Every community will be able to make the investments they need to speed up broadband, bring in more competition, give consumers more choice and, as a consequence, hopefully they’re going to be in a better position to attract businesses, make sure students have the Web at their fingertips -- make sure that all the uses of the Internet that are available are right there in their communities."

In Cedar Falls, President Obama listed four steps to support municipal broadband efforts:

  1. He has directed Federal agencies "to get rid of unnecessary regulations that slow the expansion of broadband or limit competition." The agencies will be expected to report on their progress in six months.
  2. The Department of Commerce will offer support to communities interested in building and operating broadband networks.
  3. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will launch new loan programs to support municipal broadband builds.
  4. The President will host a "Community Broadband Summit" this summer to discuss with mayors what other steps need to be taken.

"I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to," said the President in Iowa. "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."

He also took direct aim at state laws that restrict municipal broadband efforts. "If there are state laws in place that prohibit or restrict these community-based efforts, all of us -- including the FCC, which is responsible for regulating this area -- should do everything we can to push back on those old laws."

Reactions to the President's speech predictably were mixed, with consumer rights organizations voicing approval and those representing either mainstream service providers or groups who oppose government involvement in business activities generally denouncing the plans, if agreeing that broadband is important. Several in the latter camp also took the opportunity to reiterate their unhappiness with the President's support of the imposition of Title II regulation on Internet service provision.

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