A Public Interest Internet Agenda

Author(s): 
Media and Democracy Coalition
Publication Date: 
Monday, 2009, August 3

The Media and Democracy Coalition put together an impressive report examining a number of policy options to put communities first in telecommunications infrastructure. The report discusses the fundamental importance of broadband - noting that it enables the right to communicate. Having establishing its importance, the report notes that good policy must be well informed and goes on to make multiple recommendations.

Policy should promote competition, innovation, localism, and opportunity. Locally-owned and -operated networks support these core goals of Federal broadband policy, and therefore should receive priority in terms of Federal support. Structural separation of ownership of broadband infrastructure from the delivery of service over that infrastructure will further promote these goals.

The report also touches on other key issues - including Universal Access, a non-discriminatory Internet (network neutrality), symmetrical connections, and privacy. But the most important focus from our perspective is that of localism:

For decades, American communities — both rural and urban — have been neglected and underserved by absentee-owned networks, whose business models clearly do not work in smaller or economically challenged communities. By contrast, in the communities in which they are based, locally-owned networks are more likely than absentee-owned networks to provide rapid response to emergencies, enhanced services, and value-added, social capital benefits such as job-training, youth-mentoring, and small business incubation. In addition, local networks are less likely to outsource jobs, thereby strengthening local and regional economies, while creating more opportunities for community-based innovation and problem-solving. Federal broadband policy that prioritizes support for local networks will produce more competitive markets, consumer choice, and opportunities for innovation.

The first two recommendations in this section calls for federal policy that discourages absentee ownership:

  1. To fulfill the goal of extending broadband service to un- and underserved areas, federal broadband policy should prioritize support for locally-owned and -operated networks, including those owned by local governments, nonprofits and cooperatives, and public-private partnerships. Local, for-profit networks receiving federal broadband subsidies should certify that any network sale will not ultimately result in absentee ownership.
  2. In underserved areas where a local network exists or is being planned, absentee-owned networks should not be eligible for federal broadband subsidies.

We highly recommend reading this report - it is packed with information for such a short report and the layout is quite pleasing.