Obama opposes state limits on municipal broadband

The president's new broadband proposal will encourage the FCC to move against limits on city-financed projects

U.S. President Barack Obama opposes measures in 19 states that limit cities from rolling out their own broadband networks, and he will urge the Federal Communications Commission to take action to allow municipal broadband projects, the White House said Tuesday.

The announcement of Obama's formal opposition to state laws limiting or prohibiting municipal broadband projects is part of a proposal aimed at encouraging broadband competition and deployment across the U.S.

"Broadband matters, but a lot of us have a common, frustrating experience," Jeff Zients, director of the White House's National Economic Council, said during a press briefing. "Even when we're unhappy with the speed and performance of our Internet service, we don't have a choice. There are no alternative providers we can switch to."

Some allies of the U.S. broadband industry have questioned assertions by the FCC and other officials that the U.S. doesn't have enough broadband competition. On Tuesday, in anticipation of the Obama announcement, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, a trade group representing cable broadband providers, said its members have spent more than US $230 billion[b] over the past 20 years to extend and upgrade their broadband networks. Over the last decade, the average cable broadband speed has increased by more than 3,000 percent, the NCTA said.

Incumbent broadband providers and some Republicans in Congress are likely to fight Obama's proposal to allow more municipal broadband projects. Both groups have opposed municipal broadband, saying government-supported broadband shouldn't be allowed to compete with private companies.

Still, many U.S. residents want faster broadband and more competition than what's available, Zients said. Faster broadband speeds will help small businesses save time and money, encourage new startups across the U.S., and deliver personalized education to students, he said.

"When more companies compete for your broadband business, it means more reliable, faster and cheap broadband," he said.

More cities need the ability to deploy their own broadband networks or work with new providers to provide competition, added Andy Berke, mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee. By working with its local electric utility, Chattanooga has 1 gigabit-per-second broadband service, the "fastest, cheapest, most pervasive network in the Western Hemisphere," Berke said.

Obama's broadband proposal also includes new grants and loans to rural broadband providers from the Department of Agriculture, as well as a new Department of Commerce program offering technical assistance to communities that need help with broadband financing and construction.

Obama will talk more about his broadband proposal during a rally in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Wednesday, and his broadband proposal will be highlighted in his State of the Union speech next Tuesday, the White House said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags telecommunicationNational Cable and Telecommunications AssociationU.S. White HouseAndy BerkeU.S. Federal Communications CommissionlegislationBarack ObamagovernmentJeff Zientsbroadband

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