Several days at the National Conference for Media Reform in Boston gave me time to reflect on the importance of protecting local authority to build, own, and operate their own networks connecting people and businesses to the Internet. Multiple presentations focused on the importance of and strategies for ensuring access to the Internet is not controlled by a few companies -- and most of these strategies are focused at federal government agencies and Congress.
While we support these efforts, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance is not a DC-centric organization. We try to help folks in DC learn about what is happening outside the beltway, but our passion and work focuses directly on helping local communities invest in themselves and preserve their self-determination.
Access to the Internet will likely be the key infrastructure investment that determines how well communities fare in the coming years. Unfortunately, they have very little control over how those investments are made when the networks are owned by private, absentee companies. Efforts like Universal Service Fund reform, fixing the FCC, re-writing the telecom act, and ensuring network neutrality depend on overcoming incredibly powerful (due to their scale and lobbying power) interests in Washington, DC. But local communities have very little power outside their borders... with some in state capitals and practically none in the nation's capital.
Attacks at the state level on the fundamental right of communities to build this essential infrastructure are intended to eliminate their one means of gaining some control over their digital future. Too many states already ban or limit local authority to build these networks -- and with the Time Warner Cable bill to crush community networks in North Carolina picking up steam and South Carolina's similar attack even on broadband stimulus projects, we will see hundreds more communities with no power to ensure their citizens and businesses have access to fast, reliable, and affordable access to the Internet.
This is deeply concerning. Taking away the one tool communities have to meet connectivity needs locally reducses them to begging providers to invest. Many communities have already traveled this route and the results are rarely good.
We strongly encourage you to talk to your legislators - (if you are in North Carolina, you need to do this IMMEDIATELY - the Senate is poised to act; see Stop the Cap! for more information) to say that communities must have the freedom to choose locally whether a community network is appropriate (and what that would mean, as there are a variety of approaches).
Talk to city leaders too, to make sure they are communicating with state officials, national officials, and relevant organizations (like National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, etc). Cable and telco lobbyists are constantly spreading lies and trying to preempt local authority. If decision-makers do not hear from you, the lobbyist message resonates all the more.