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Cities cheer Obama's push for municipal broadband

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 19, 2015
Dozens of U.S. cities are cheering President Obama's proposal this week for the Federal Communications Commission to allow municipalities to provide their own Internet broadband services even in states that have banned such services.

Dozens of U.S. cities are cheering President Obama's proposal this week for the Federal Communications Commission to allow municipalities to provide their own Internet broadband services even in states that have banned such services.

"Obama's doing just what we have been advocating," said Rick Usher, assistant city manager for Kansas City, Mo., in an interview. "It follows what we've been advocating for repeal of these state laws and measures that prevent broadband partnerships for cities."

Kansas City, Mo., is one of 55 cities in the Next Century Cities, a bipartisan group of city leaders who are seeking ways to provide more broadband opportunities, especially in underserved areas. Usher said a live video stream of Obama's broadband announcement from Iowa was shown to members of the group as it met on Wednesday. "There was a lot of cheering in the room" as Obama spoke, he said.

Kansas City, Mo., is not trying to build its own municipal broadband network but has informally partnered with Google Fiber, which is building out 1 Gbps fiber connections to homes and businesses there and on the Kansas City, Kan., side of the two connected cities.

Usher said city officials are especially worried by recently proposed legislation in the Missouri House of Representatives that would "create a lot of hurdles for cities offering competitive services" to private businesses, and city attorneys are studying its ramifications.

Nineteen states ban or limit cities from offering broadband services that compete with private offerings. Obama, in a letter this week, urged the FCC to approve municipal broadband petitions.

The 19 states include Missouri, but also Tennessee and North Carolina, states where two cities are urging the FCC to approve their municipal broadband proposals. The cities are Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C. A map of the 19 states with municipal broadband restrictions can be found on the Broadbandnow site, which supports the expansion of broadband in the U.S.

The Center for Media and Democracy reported last year that the 19 state-level restrictions were based on model legislation that was drafted by the conservative special interest group, the American Legislative Exchange Council, with support from major telecom businesses.

The FCC has legal authority to approve the petitions for municipal broadband by Chattanooga and Wilson, despite the limiting state laws, said Robert Cooper, a partner in the law firm of Boies, Schiller & Flexner in Washington and an expert in telecommunications litigation.

Cooper, in an email, said the FCC's legal authority comes from Section 706b of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which says that the FCC shall regularly "determine whether advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. If the commission's determination is negative, it shall take immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in a telecommunications market."

 

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