The Orlando Sentinel published this op-ed about local government action for broadband networks on March 11, 2015.
Local governments should make broadband choices
By Christopher Mitchell
Community broadband must be a local choice, a guest columnist writes.
When Comcast announced plans last year to invest hundreds of millions in theme parks in Florida and California, its customers may have wondered why the cable giant wasn't using those funds to deliver a faster or more reliable Internet connection. While Comcast's Universal Studios faces competition from Walt Disney World, most people don't have a real choice in high-speed Internet access.
The Federal Communications Commission has just boosted the broadband definition from 4 megabits per second to 25 mbps. At that speed, some 75 percent of Americans have no choice in providers — they are stuck with one or none.
The rest of America is living in the future, often because their local government rolled up its sleeves and got involved. In some of these communities, the local government built its own network and others worked with a trusted partner. Chattanooga's city-owned electric utility built the nation's first citywide gigabit network, which is about 100 times faster than the average connection today.
Google is famously working with some bigger cities, whereas local provider GWI in Maine has partnered with several local governments to expand gigabit access.
However, the big cable and telephone companies have almost always refused to work with local governments. Instead, they've lobbied states to restrict the right of local governments to build or partner in this essential infrastructure.
In Florida, the law puts restrictions on local governments that do not apply to the private sector, such as a strict profitability timetable that can be unrealistic for large capital investments regardless of being privately or publicly owned. Some 20 states have such barriers that limit competition by effectively taking the decision away from communities.
In January, President Obama spoke out in favor of local governments being able to make these investments and partnerships without state interference. He was in Cedar Falls, Iowa, which has one of the oldest municipal broadband... Read more