The excellently named Wicked Local reports that the city council of Cambridge, Massachussetts remains deadlocked about what to do to expand broadband to those who need it. Proponents of a municipal network continue to face opposition from some elected city leaders, while others are pushing fixed wireless as a quicker, less immediately expensive solution.
As Mayors must concern themselves with everything from public safety and health to the development of the local economy and the provision of essential municipal services, they tend to have a particular focus on the infrastructure necessary to support it all, amid a cacophony of competing interests.
Over the summer, having reached consensus on the fundamental importance of “the digital infrastructure of tomorrow,” a particular focus of the United States Conference of Mayors 88th National Annual Meeting was to issue a resolution declaring the necessity of “Preserving Local Public Rights-of-Way and Regulatory Authority to Most Effectively Deploy 5G Broadband Access and Bridge the Digital Divide during the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
The Mayors’ resolution comes in response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC's) 2018 preemption of local governments’ authority to regulate 5G infrastructure in their cities.
At the heart of the regulatory debate: local governments’ ability to determine the amount of fees to charge mobile carriers that want to place 5G equipment in Rights-of-Way. In addition to putting limits on those fees, the FCC Order also sets strict timelines by which cities and towns must respond to carrier applications. The FCC decision, issued over the objections of industry observers and policy experts, essentially eliminates local communities’ ability to negotiate in order to protect their own Rights-of-Way and the poles, traffic lights, and other potential structures within those Rights-of-Way.
Preempting Local Authority
When the FCC handed down the order in the fall of 2018 we noted that it represented a significant giveaway to wireless carrier corporations while placing additional restrictions and undue financial burdens on local regulators, most of which are county boards and city departments.
To justify the order, the...Read more
Opelika has offered FTTH to residents and businesses for less than six months but already it is singing the praises of local choice. Mayor Gary Fuller is now speaking out in an opinion piece in AL.com, encouraging the FCC to allow Wilson, Chattanooga, and other communities to have the same opportunity as Opelika.
Mayor Fuller points out that local telecommunications authority is an organic outgrowth of local self-reliance:
Cities have always been at the heart of economic expansion, entrepreneurialism, and local connection to citizens, charged with ensuring high-quality education for our children, caring for our sick and elderly neighbors, and laying the foundation for shared prosperity. As we look to the years ahead, high-speed broadband will only become more and more important to the quality and vitality of our community.
That's why in Opelika, I led the charge to become the first city in Alabama to offer this cutting edge technology, both to residential and business customers. As a result, Opelika citizens now have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds that will turn possibilities into real opportunities. Businesses now have more opportunities to expand and grow, work more effectively and efficiently, and compete in a larger market.
As one of over 450 communities that have invested in the infrastructure for better connectivity, Opelika can speak from experience. Mayor Fuller encourages all FCC Commissioners to support the notion of local choice:
The important fact is that every city must have the power to make the best decisions for their residents, free of interference. That's why the Federal Communications Commission should join Chairman Wheeler in preserving these two communities' right to self-determination.
In Opelika, our citizens are building a stronger more prosperous city based on local Internet choice. If more cities have those same opportunities, someday soon it may not be so strange for a 30,000-person city to offer blazing fast Internet.
The Madison Cap Times recently ran an editorial focusing on the surprising nature of mayoral races. We were also surprised - pleasantly so - to read the intention of the editorial board (emphasis ours):
The Capital Times will add its proposals to the mix, with a special focus on using emerging technologies to promote high-wage job creation and economic development. In particular, we'll advocate for the establishment of a municipal broadband system that can provide free high-speed Internet access to all Madisonians.
Madison is a great city that does plenty of things right. But it faces major challenges, some of its own making, some imposed by reactionary state government, some dictated by our complex times. A mayoral race is the pivot point at which to discuss those challenges and the proper responses to them.
The Cap Times editorial reminds us that local decision making about connectivity is rooted in our choice of local leaders. We encourage Madison voters and all other communities facing the ballot to press candidates to address the issue of fast, affordable, reliable connectivity. If your community doesn't have it, ask your candidates what they intend to do about it.
Madison's mayor Soglin has been a leader on this issue via the U.S. Conference of Mayors, where he wrote and worked to adopt a resolution that called for restoring local decision-making authority to local governments.
Recently, we ran a story on the Columbus suburb of Dublin, which has a growing fiber optic network that has paid huge dividends in public savings, economic development, and facilitating technology research with the Ohio State University. Apparently others are taking notice of Dublin as well: Athens, a city 90 miles to the Southeast, has its city council discussing how to get fiber in the ground and the possibility of a public WiFi network.
After meeting representatives of Dublin’s economic development department at a conference in November, Athens mayor Paul Wiehl came away impressed enough to start a discussion with the city council about how the Dublin model of extensive conduit networks and fiber access for businesses and public buildings might be adapted to Athens. Athens is a college town, home of Ohio University, which may mean that like Dublin (which is only a few miles from the Ohio State University) it could be well positioned for research partnerships using fiber optics.
While specific plans have not yet been worked out,
[Mayor] Wiehl said that the city's public works director, Andy Stone, recently has been looking at ways to incorporate fiber-optic line capacity into city infrastructure projects. The lines likely would be maintained by the city, and probably would run only to local businesses, who would pay the city for use of the Internet service.
Unfortunately, Athens’ city leaders may be overly enamored with the idea of citywide Wi-Fi. DubLINK launched a citywide WiFi network several years ago, but like nearly every other citywide WiFi system in the country it has not been able to deliver reliable high speed connections blanketing the entire city due to technological limitations. WiFi can still provide considerable value if deployed intelligently in specific public spaces as a supplement to other forms of access. But if Athens officials are expecting a cheap and easy answer to providing robust home access over a wide area, they are likely to be disappointed.
Still, Athens offers an encouraging example of how good connectivity policy ideas can spread from one community to another. Dublin’s example has helped to put fiber investments on the agenda and in...Read more
On June 22, Mayors from around the country gathered at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 82nd Annual Meeting. Members of the Standing Committee on Transportation and Communications voted to combine Resolution #115 "Net Neutrality" and #114 "Preserving a Free and Open Internet."
Resolution #115 was of particular interest to community broadband advocates because it called on the FCC to preempt state laws erecting barriers to local authority.
The final product, officially approved by the USCM, retained the language supporting Chairman Wheeler's intention to help smooth the road for publicly owned networks:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the US Conference of Mayors recommends that the FCC preempt state barriers to municipal broadband service as a significant limitation to competition in the provision of Internet access.
Resolution #115 was introduced by Mayor Paul Slogin of Madison, Wisconsin.
The 82nd Annual Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) will be voting on resolutions this weekend in Dallas. It's time for you to call your Mayor and tell him or her to support Resolution #115 on Network Neutrality and restoring local authority on Internet infrastructure.
The Resolution (page 293 of the Resolutions list) recommends that the FCC pre-empt state laws that preempt local authority over local investments and partnerships to expand Internet access. The net effect is to restore local authority. The Resolution also recommends the agency reclassify broadband Internet service as Telecommunications Service under Title II.
This is a perfect opportunity for local community leaders to express their constituents' demand for authority to control their broadband destiny.
The Mayor of Madison, Paul Soglin, introduced Resolution #115. Is your Mayor attending the conference?
Act now - the conference ends June 23!
Finding a job, getting a competitive education, participating in our democracy, or even going to work for some, requires high speed internet access. I have seen people say online, "I don’t need a road to get to work, I need high speed internet." Seattle would never leave the construction of roads up to a private monopoly, nor should we allow the City’s internet access to be constructed and managed by a private monopoly.
It is incredibly clear to me and residents throughout the City of Seattle, that the City’s current high speed internet options are not dependable enough, are cost prohibitive for many, and have few (if any) competitive options.
The Mayor also hinted that if the City needs a municipal broadband network, he would "help lead the way."
As a Seattleite, Herz knows firsthand about the lack of connectivity options in the area. Herz writes:
This is both encouraging and disappointingly tentative language from the mayor. It seems to cast municipal broadband as a last resort. Municipal broadband is a no-f*cking-brainer. [our *]
Herz turned to Chris for perspective:
"I have seen this from many Mayors who talk about how someone should do something but we don't always see concrete actions because of the difficulty and the immense opposition from some powerful companies like Comcast," Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative, who's worked with cities across the country on this question, tells me.
Seattle doesn't know what to expect from a Mayor that Comcast tried to buy (we suspect they did not succeed but have nonetheless sent a loud message). It is encouraging to see that the issue has not simply disappeared, but Herz and his neighbors want more:
What are you waiting for, Ed?...
This post got lost in our system but we still wanted to publish it. The Nation ran an article by Maya Wiley, founder of the Center for Social Inclusion, calling on New York's Mayor de Blasio to bring the "Two New Yorks" together with community broadband.
Her article describes the Red Hook area of Brooklyn where a community network is helping residents and businesses. The community is filled with low-income families and physically separated by the subway system. During Superstorm Sandy, Red Hook happened to be one of the few places where one could find Wi-Fi access in New York.
Thanks to the the Red Hook Initiative (RHI), the Open Technology Institute (OTI), and a strong sense of self-reliance, the community established a mesh network. Wiley shares the story of the community network, describing ways it has provided access and created opportunity. She understands the link between community networks and possibilities for the people they serve.
From the article:
New York is getting a big infusion of federal dollars to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy. Mayor de Blasio should look for ways to leverage some of those dollars to better equip low-lying, low-income communities to weather the roiling seas of climate change and the economy.
High-speed Internet access won’t stop future superstorms and it won’t solve all the unfairness that low-income New Yorkers face. But with strong alliances between community members, local non-profits, businesses and technology experts, it will bring affordable, local innovation that helps us build stronger, fairer and more resilient communities.
In the time since, Maya Wiley has accepted a position as Counsel to Mayor de Blasio and will be heading up efforts to expand Internet access among other duties.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sees expanding Internet access as a justice issue and wants to make sure every Baltimore resident benefits from City assets, including fiber optic cables. To that end, the City is examining how it can use its conduit and fiber to improve Internet access.
We have previously covered Baltimore and its consideration of public investments to expand Internet access after both FiOS and Google decided not to invest there.
In the interview below, Mayor Rawlings-Blake expands on why this is important, saying "You can't grow jobs with slow Internet... people don't want to invest in communities where they feel like they are running through sludge, trying to catch up with other businesses," going on to say, "People want to be on the cutting edge."