Obama Administration Urges FCC to Allow Local Communities to Offer Broadband

The Obama Administration on Wednesday urged the Federal Communications Commission to remove barriers preventing local communities from offering broadband services. The White House is in favor of municipal broadband investments and said laws in 19 states have stymied broadband access. 

“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,” wrote Lawrence Strickling, administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “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 White House is in favor of municipal broadband investments and said laws in 19 states have stymied broadband access. An agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, NTIA is responsible for advising President Obama on telecommunications and information policy. Strickling cited growing disparities between areas with and without sufficient broadband services. For instance, he noted more than 99 percent of Rhode Island residents currently have access to broadband speeds of at least 25 Mbps, while the same speeds are only available to 20 percent of Vermont residents and 13 percent of Montana residents.

Some municipal broadband networks have been successes while others have been failures. Strickling cited examples of the former in Dawsonville, Georgia and Scott County, Minnesota. He said municipalities should participate in expanding broadband in cases in which private investment has not led to sufficient infrastructure.

“We know that local government entities, working with community stakeholders such as businesses, community organizations and schools, are very effective catalysts for defining local broadband needs, identifying local financial and other resources, garnering public support for investment, and convening private and public partners to develop solutions,” he wrote.

The letter was submitted to Wheeler as his FCC considers requests by a city in North Carolina and a power board in Tennessee to preempt state laws that restrict public entities from offering broadband service in certain areas. USTelecom, a trade association in Washington, D.C., representing large telecommunications companies including AT&T and Verizon, has argued the FCC shouldn’t interfere with state legislatures on the issue.

“High-speed Internet access is a fundamental part of our daily lives at home, on the job and at school. While fast broadband is available to some, there are far too many parts of the country, particularly rural America, that are being left further and further behind,” Wheeler said Wednesday in a statement following a speech by President Obama in Cedar Falls, Iowa, that related to broadband. “Many other Americans lack competitive choices for broadband. The FCC has been working diligently to expand broadband deployment and increase consumer choice and competition nationwide, including reviewing complaints from cities that have been prohibited from providing competitive high-speed alternatives.”

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