Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Community broadband is now a national issue

Life is what happens to you when you're making other plans. So I was planning some other topic for today's blog when I noticed this headline on Feedly: "POTUS Rocks the Broadband World!!" That headline appeared on one of my RSS feeds from Craig Settles' blog, Building the Gigabit City. In his article, Settles explains the President's plans to get affordable broadband to everyone in this country by assisting community broadband deployment efforts. This is just an amazing development.

I mean, Obama appointed a long time cable industry lobbyist as head of the FCC. As I reviewed the articles I've read on the topic, this ship is finally turning around at the top and I had no reason to believe that we'd get to this point. In recent weeks, Obama has called on the FCC to implement some form of Net Neutrality. He has also called upon the FCC to reclassify the major ISPs as common carriers under Title II. Now this? I guess Christmas is coming a bit early this year.

To be sure that this wasn't just a blip, I checked around. ArsTechnica picked up the story. Community Broadband Networks has a post on this story, too. Scanning the news headlines on Google News, this isn't even a tick on the radar, but the fact is, this is really big news. Obama has announced a concerted effort by various federal agencies to remove the barriers within the states that prevent community broadband adoption. This should be a major headline, yet there is nothing in the major news outlets about this.

Since this is a non-partisan issue, I don't expect the leaders of the US House to issue threats to defund this effort. Why not? Because in Colorado alone, eight cities voted to take back local control of their internet choices with greater than 75% majorities to overcome laws that hobble community broadband in their state. The towns range from liberal to conservative. It didn't matter. What mattered is that they all knew they had a common adversary: private internet service providers like Comcast, Centurylink and AT&T.

Now Obama didn't talk about that in his video now on YouTube. But people familiar with the story know that entrenched incumbent carriers, worried about competition, have been working furiously to delay the inevitable: community broadband. This is the problem with private monopolies in any area of industry. Self-preservation becomes more important than customers.

So it is with real hope that this administration can help to remove the obstacles put into place in 2001 that prevented UTOPIA, the Utah Open Infrastructure Agency, from reaching out and helping consumers statewide with reasonably priced, high-speed, reliable internet access. Community broadband is here, now, in more than 400 cities across this nation. But you wouldn't know it by looking around Utah.
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