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Obama outlines broadband boost via executive action

Matt Hamblen | Jan. 15, 2015
President Obama said today he will take executive action to boost broadband speeds and connections at lower prices, especially in inner cities and rural areas.

President Obama said today he will take executive action to boost broadband speeds and connections at lower prices, especially in inner cities and rural areas.

The move is sure to draw fire from Republicans concerned about the president's preference for executive initiatives that he believes are beyond the reach of the GOP-controlled Congress.

Obama appeared in Cedar Falls, Iowa to push his latest broadband proposal and plans to raise the matter in his State of the Union address next Tuesday.

Despite being small in size, Cedar Falls offers fast Internet download speeds at 1Gbps, Obama noted in his brief comments. He covered much of the same ground used in a brief White House preview video.

The Iowa city of 40,000 ranks right along with Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris for fast broadband, thanks to a city utility-backed fiber optic network. "That's the company you're keeping," Obama said Wednesday. "You're 100 times faster than the national average and you can log on at about the same price as a fully loaded cable bundle."

By comparison, Los Angeles, New York and Washington D.C. offer just 500Mbps download speeds, Obama said in the earlier video. "That may mean money if you are trying to do a business meeting," he added. "You may lose a customer if you're not able to respond quickly.... There are real world consequences to this and it makes us less economically competitive."

Urges FCC toward more regulation

In November, Obama pushed for separate net neutrality measures that would prevent Internet providers from throttling speeds and taking payments to prioritze certain content providers. At the time, he also said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should regulate Internet providers under Title II provisions. That approach has unleashed a firestorm of opposition from traditional ISPs who feel it will lead to too much regulation.

Incumbent wireless and wired ISPs are also expected to oppose Obama's latest plans in state legislatures and potentially before Congress. Opponents include the National Cable and Telecommunications Association trade group, which argues its members spent $230 billion over two decades to upgrade networks, with top speeds increasing 3,200% in the past decade. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation also objected to Obama's plan on Wednesday, calling it "good politics, but bad policy."

Among several measures, the president wants the FCC to allow municipal broadband projects in the 19 states that limit cities from conducting their own rollouts. It isn't clear precisely how he hopes the federal agency will do so, but called it a first step in his program.

"I'm on the side of competition and small business owners," Obama told the Iowa audience. "A community has the right to make its own choice, and nobody is forcing you to. If the state laws restrict or prohibit [municipal broadband], all of us, including the FCC should do everything we can to push back on those old laws. More competition means better products and better prices."


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