Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Community Broadband Act

Now that the President has brought the issue of community broadband to the national scene in his State of the Union Address and during a trip he made to Cedar Falls, Iowa, members of Congress are starting to wake up. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey has introduced a bill to make room for competition in local broadband services. The bill prohibits the states from enacting or maintaining laws that hinder the progress of community broadband service.

To put it another way, the bill provides that cities and towns have their own authority to choose their internet provider when they have been denied services from an incumbent service provider. This bill would pave the way for cities and towns across the country to a choice: they could rely upon a recalcitrant incumbent provider to someday provide faster speeds, or they could build their own networks. The state legislature would not have the power to prevent any community within their state from building their own networks.

There is an interesting thing going on here, from a somewhat technical perspective. The text of the bill is not available on the GPO site yet. But Scribd has the entire text available for anyone to read. The bill also has the support of Chris Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks, a part of the Institute for Local Self Reliance:
"We believe these decisions about how best to expand Internet access are best made by local governments, who are most informed of the need and challenges. We applaud Senator Booker for this bill to ensure communities can decide for themselves if a partnership or an investment in network infrastructure is the right choice."
Community Broadband Networks also notes that this bill has language that is the same as bills introduced in 2005 and 2007, but since then, Republicans in Congress have decided that since Obama supports this kind of legislation, they do not. Nevermind that community broadband is overwhelmingly supported at the state and local level wherever it is introduced, regardless of party affiliation.

I'm now tracking this bill with email updates from govtrack.us and am looking forward to more updates. Govtrack.us gives this bill about a 7% chance of getting out of committee and only a 2% chance of passing Congress. Why is that so? Large commercial interests such as Comcast, Verizon and AT+T would very much like to avoid local competition of any kind when they can maintain a captured market with government intervention that they have secured for years now.

If you want better internet access from a community provider that places the public good above profit, support this bill. Call your Congressperson and let him know about S.240, the Community Broadband Act and that you want him or her to support this bill.
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