A small army of community broadband activists, advocates, experts and coalitions have waged ceaseless war on behalf of communities’ right to make their own choices for bringing faster, better broadband to their constituents. Today, our band of stouthearted souls is reinforced by the ultimate big gun in this good fight.
The President of these United States is speaking out in full force about the value and virtues of community-owned broadband network, and denouncing the laws restricting public networks in 21 states. Last week I predicted there would be a surge in efforts to challenge these laws, and this pretty much guarantees it to be so.
In today’s remarks by the President from Cedar Falls, Iowa, (read how they became a gigabit city), he acknowledges the efforts of the 50 cities in the Next Century Cities coalition (recently interviewed on Gigabit Nation) and 37 research universities of Gig.U. President Obama also announces several initiatives by his administration to advance broadband deployments in the U.S., including the Dept. of Commerce’s BroadbandUSA program and the Dept. of Agriculture’s revamped broadband loan program.
What undoubtedly will capture the lion’s share of media attention is the President’s focus on the barriers to public broadband in 21 states. My report I released last week, How to Navigate, Mitigate or Eliminate the Impacts of State Restrictions on Public Broadband, details these laws and offers recommendations on how communities can work with or work around them.
One of the challenges that will face the community broadband movement after the President weighs in – besides the howling of incumbent dissatisfaction – is trying to enlist support from both sides of the aisle in DC. “Our goal is now is to make affordable and ubiquitous access to advanced communications as nonpartisan an issue at the national level as it is at the local level,” states Attorney Jim Baller, an attorney with the Baller Herbst Law Group in Washington, DC and one of the recognized national leaders in the community broadband effort.
Indeed, the amount of bipartisan support public broadband garners at the local level is a lesson that both DC and many statehouses need to embrace. Conventional wisdom says that majority-conservative legislatures usually oppose public networks, while strongly progressive legislatures support them. However, in 2014 you couldn’t always tell a book by its partisan cover.
A conservative member of the North Carolina legislature encouraged a group of local government IT officials to elect representatives who favor community networks and indicated legislators are having doubts about their law. Eight bills to modify state restrictions worked their way toward passage in the Tennessee assembly and senate until an AT&T executive’s veiled threat of “Well, I’d hate for this to end up in litigation” killed their advance. Despite that pressure, expect to see that movement for repeal taken up again by the same legislators.
Each state is different, but communities often find that getting better broadband is locally a nonpartisan call to arms driven by strong economic and quality of life issues throughout their areas. The bipartisan nature of public broadband was on full display in November when eight Colorado communities, some with distinctly left- or right-leaning constituencies, passed referenda by over 75 percent margins to take back broadband authority. This, together with constant coverage of success stories, is driving constituents to pressure state legislators to support rather than hinder public broadband. That bipartisan press now needs to be exerted on Congress.
For 24 hours at least, my colleagues and I immersed in the good fight for better broadband are all going to bask in the glow of Presidential acknowledgement and revel in the fact we all helped make a difference, even on days when it felt like we were just lonely voices in the wilderness. And then it’s back to work, folks!
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