More than two dozen cities in 19 states announced today that they're sick of big telecom skipping them over for internet infrastructure upgrades and would like to build gigabit fiber networks themselves and help other cities follow their lead.
The Next Centuries Cities coalition, which includes a couple cities that already have gigabit fiber internet for their residents, was devised to help communities who want to build their own broadband networks navigate logistical and legal challenges to doing so.
Over the last several months, there's been a Federal Communications Commission-backed push for cities to build their own broadband networks because big telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon either don't or won't offer competitive broadband speeds in certain parts of the country.
"Across the country, city leaders are hungry to deploy high-speed Internet to transform their communities and connect residents to better jobs, better health care, and better education for their children,” Deb Socia, the group's executive director, said in a statement. “These mayors are rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done."
States with laws restricting community broadband. Image: MuniNetworks.org
That's turned out to be a tricky proposition in a legal environment where more than 20 states have passed legislation (lobbied for by telecom companies and ALEC, a controversial, big business-backed “charity” that writes legislation for states) making it illegal or legally difficult for cities to build their own networks.
Of the cities involved in the coalition, 12 are located in states where there are legal barriers to building community networks. Those cities include Austin and San Antonio, Texas; Chattanooga, Morristown, Jackson, and Clarksville, Tenn.; Kansas City, Mo.; Lafayette, Louisiana; Montrose, Colo.; Mount Vernon, Wash.; Raleigh and Wilson, N.C.; and Winthrop, Minn. To be fair, some of these cities, such as Wilson, Chattanooga, and Austin already have gigabit service (Wilson and Chattanooga built it before a law was passed, Austin has Google Fiber).
"Towns and communities struggle with limited budgets, laws that restrict their opportunity to build/support a network that fits their needs, and even market pressures," the group of cities said in a recent blog post.
Too few commentators and policymakers recognize that truly next-generation Internet is indispensable in the 21st century
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly said he's willing to help cities preempt state laws barring community networks if they file a petition with the FCC. It'd appear that many of these cities are at least looking into the idea, with Chattanooga and Wilson already filing preemption requests with the agency.
That's riled up conservative lawmakers and small government types, who say it's a federal government overreach to tell states what they can and cannot do. Cities say that's absurd, because, well, what is a state government if not a slightly bigger government trampling on the will of local decision makers and citizens?
The cities involved in this coalition say that their residents, who languish with mediocre DSL connections and intermittent access, are being lost in the national debate.
"We are at a crossroads. Too few communities have the Internet infrastructure to deliver on the promise of America. Too few commentators and policymakers recognize that truly next-generation Internet is indispensable in the 21st century," the group wrote.
"If you are a city equipped with gigabit infrastructure, join us. If you want this infrastructure but face difficulty in attaining it, join us," it said. "If you want to be part of a movement of cities and leaders who believe that next-generation Internet infrastructure will be a decisive factor for America’s cities in the decades to come, join us."