The debate in the U.S. over whether or not local communities should be allowed to construct their own broadband services heated up this week as President Obama threw his weight behind eradicating laws that prevent municipal broadband establishment.
Speaking in a warehouse in Cedar Falls, Iowa on January 14, Obama praised the efforts of Cedar Falls in constructing and maintaining 1 Gbps internet speeds for its residents. Such a feat — which has been touted in the U.S. by technologically advanced projects such as Google Fiber — highlights the possibilities for local internet speeds should municipalities be given authority to build their own. And in 19 states, they are not.
This controversy has come to a head over the last year as two states took their petitions for municipal broadband to the F.C.C.; the F.C.C. responded by saying it will address the complaints. The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and the Wilson, North Carolina have called upon the F.C.C. to preempt the states’ laws that prevent towns from creating their own internet services. The debate, of course, lies in the fact that large, national internet service providers have lobbied for those laws so they can maintain market dominance over internet delivery.
Obama’s speech echoes the letter his administration sent the F.C.C. urging the agency to deal with these laws:
The Administration submits that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should ensure that community leaders have every tool available to them in order to meet the nation’s goal of providing all citizens access to broadband capabilities in a reasonable and timely manner. In particular, we urge the FCC to utilize its authority to address barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens.
The F.C.C. will deliver a decision on the petitions of Chattanooga and Wilson on February 26. No doubt, ISPs like Comcast and Verizon are dreading the potential outcome of the F.C.C.’s meeting as Chairman Tom Wheeler has publicly stated he supports making the internet a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Indeed, ISPs have sent a letter to the F.C.C. asking that the agency dismiss the petitions of Chattanooga and Wilson, but with Obama’s open support, there is a chance the cities could get their way.