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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.

Other Obama measures include grants from the Department of Agriculture to rural carriers in underserved areas and a new Department of Commerce program, BroadbandUSA, to offer online and in-person technical assistance to communities and guides on planning, financing and construction.

ISPs push back

In many states, traditional ISPs have lobbied for the laws that restrict the broadband plans of cities and towns. "Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity," the White House said in its fact sheet.

While the issue sounds like an involved discussion for technology policy wonks, it could affect almost anybody seeking fast Internet service, either a consumer at home or at a small or medium-sized business. Some experts believe FCC approvals for municipal broadband will allow for more competition that could lower costs and increase speeds. The White House said that three out of four Americans have no competition or no service "at speeds increasingly required for many online services."

A separate new report from the National Economic Council looked at local initatives in Chattanooga, Tenn., Wilson, N.C. and other jurisdictions. Kansas City, Mo., was one of the first cities to win services from 1 Gigabit Google Fiber, which has in turn helped spur new startups and other economic activity there, the White House noted.

The Economic Council said nearly 51 million Americans cannot buy a wired broadband connection with download speeds of at least 25Mbps. The FCC now defines basic broadband speeds as 4Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream, but is considering a revision to define downstream speeds up to 25Mbps and 3Mbps upstream as broadband.

All broadband is local

"You can't survive today without fast Internet," said Deb Socia, executive director of Next Generation Cities, a bipartisan coalition of 55 cities. She praised Obama's proposals in an interview. "I'm pleasantly surprised how aggressive Obama's plan is."

Part of Obama's program calls on localities to make their own decisions about broadband. "That's exciting," she said.

The president seems to be joining forces with many city mayors in his broadband proposal — thereby skirting large carriers and state legislatures — in line with the old political adage that "all politics is local."

"Our group talks about broadband as a people issue and not a partisan issue and the local elected officials know they need to be accountable to people on the street," Socia said. "Those grassroots people give you a hard time if you're not meeting their needs. We've got communities that still have dial-up. More and more, folks recognize the value of faster broadband speeds, because they give kids an opportunity to learn, the ability to work at home and not to mention managing finances and joining in participatory democracy."


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