When you think about hubs for high-speed Internet innovation, Cedar Falls, Iowa, is definitely not a location that would usually come to mind. But the small city received a big boost to its national profile January 2015, when President Barack Obama traveled there to unveil a new national broadband policy initiative aimed at spurring high-speed infrastructure investment across the United States.
Why did he pick Cedar Falls? Because it’s the only city in Iowa that offers gigabit speeds to consumers. It’s able to do this thanks to Cedar Falls Utilities, a municipally owned network that offers residents high-speed Internet access, which the president highlighted as an important option to help close the digital divide in America. The speech took place during a week of technology-related proposals to preview the State of the Union address, during which the president mentioned a number of tech topics, including cybersecurity, consumer privacy, and of course, broadband access.
“I intend to protect a free and open Internet, extend its reach to every classroom, and every community, and help folks build the fastest networks so that the next generation of digital innovators and entrepreneurs have the platform to keep reshaping our world,” Obama told the nation in his annual address. By voicing his support for local solutions to address the digital divide, President Obama took a strong, progressing stance on an important broadband policy issue.
The president had already come out in favor of strong neutrality rules, urging the FCC to reclassify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service. If the FCC reclassified broadband, it would be able to treat Internet providers as common carriers and put robust protections against blacking, discrimination, and fees for access or prioritized access in place.
Although some form of Internet access is practically ubiquitous today, more than 50 million Americans aren’t online, and for many it’s because they still can’t get affordable next-generation broadband service. It becomes more pronounced when you compare access in urban and rural parts of America, four in five Americans who aren’t online live below the poverty line. A big part of the problem is competition: Most Americans line in areas where only a single provider offers truly high-speed connectivity, and it comes with a steep price tag.
The president finally called for an end to state laws that make it difficult for communities to build networks. It may sound straightforward, but this is certainly going to be the trickiest part of his proposal to implement. At least 19 states have laws on the books that make it more difficult to build local broadband networks. These laws were enacted after vigorous lobbying from big telecom and cable companies that don’t want to compete with cities on broadband speed and price. (In February the FCC voted 3-2 and overturned these state laws)
Read Article (Kehl & Lucey | slate.com | 01/21/2015)
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