The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been busy lately. In addition to reviewing comments about important issues like network neutrality, the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, and spectrum auctions, the FCC has also invited comments on two petitions that, if approved, could help pave the wave for more local broadband networks across the country.
Local broadband networks represent a growing trend where local leaders take broadband buildout into their own hands, determining for themselves what investments their communities need and building networks to accommodate those needs, now and in the future. These community-driven networks are getting more and more attention, particularly since they are either banned or significantly restricted by laws in 21 states, often as a result of substantial pressure from incumbent Internet service providers.
Policy makers in Washington are paying attention — in June, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote a blog post highlighting the importance of local broadband networks as well as the challenges that state-level barriers create for communities. He noted that interfering with local choice in broadband investment decisions runs counter to the national policy priority of encouraging greater high-speed Internet access. A few weeks later, two municipal pioneers in local broadband networks, Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN, filed petitions asking the FCC to preempt the laws in their states that prevent them from expanding their networks to serve neighboring areas.
OTI submitted comments in support of the petitions, emphasizing the importance of preserving local choice and detailing the economic and social benefits that local broadband networks provide for their communities. We drew on earlier research from our Cost of Connectivity reports, a comparison of broadband services available to consumers in various U.S. and international cities, which found that the service offerings from municipal broadband providers are among the best in the world. We’ve also observed how locally-owned broadband infrastructure can benefit communities in other ways, such as supporting additional resources for digital learning, allowing public safety officials to integrate new tools, and providing incentives for local businesses to relocate and expand within the community. In our comments, OTI noted that:
“Local broadband networks support many of the [FCC]’s policy goals. Local networks have a clear impact on competition, offering some of the highest speed broadband services available and spurring other providers to respond with improved services of their own. Local networks also offer important quality of life benefits to communities. They provide high-capacity bandwidth resources to meet the needs of community anchor institutions like schools, libraries, and community centers and encourage local economic development.”
Encouraging local decision-making and supporting community broadband networks are longstanding priorities for OTI. No two communities are alike, and as such, no two local broadband networks are alike since each reflects the resources and needs of the community. Laws that limit the local planning process therefore affect different communities in different ways. To help explain the distinctions in network models and the impacts that the choice of models might have for communities, we released a report earlier this year designed as an in-depth “how-to” for communities considering building local broadband networks. OTI also held a public event, bringing together local leaders and leading advocates to discuss the ways in which local networks can be a rich resource for the communities they serve — and to explore the ways that state bans and restrictions on those networks limit access to the benefits the networks would otherwise provide.
This summer, OTI also joined the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC). As the name suggests, CLIC advocates for the right of communities to make their own decisions when it comes to investing in broadband infrastructure and to protect against barriers to that investment. One of CLIC’s founding principles states:
"Communities Must Be Able to Make Their Own Choices: Local choice enables local self-reliance and accountability. Local choice enables local innovation, investment, and competition. Local communities, through their elected officials, must have the right and opportunity to choose for themselves the best broadband Internet infrastructure for their businesses, institutions, and residents. Federal broadband policies must prioritize local choice and provide local communities full, unhindered authority to choose their own broadband future."
The FCC now has an opportunity to act by encouraging broadband competition and improving access to high-speed broadband services. OTI will continue to advocate, both individually and as a member of CLIC, for local choice for broadband and highlight the benefits local broadband networks provide their communities.