President Barack Obama announced plans Wednesday to help communities across the country get better access to high-speed broadband.
He called on agencies to reduce and remove any regulatory barriers to broadband competition, and said he would establish a Broadband Opportunity Council with representatives from more than a dozen agencies to work on speeding up broadband deployment nationally.
“This isn’t just about making it easier to stream Netflix or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed — this is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy,” Obama said.
The Commerce Department plans to launch BroadbandUSA, an effort to advance broadband deployment and adoption. The program will be administered through Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and succeeds the agency’s Recovery Act-era Broadband Technology Opportunities Program that invested more than $4 billion in grants to build network infrastructure and establish public computer centers to expand broadband adoption.
At the Agriculture Department, the broadband loan program will be revamped to offer additional financing to smaller rural carriers who bring high-speed broadband to underserved areas.
Speaking in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the president commended the city for its municipally supported broadband, which competes with private sector companies. Cedar Falls, Iowa’s first “gigabit city,” started its municipal broadband program about 20 years ago after residents voted in a referendum to establish broadband as a public utility. Now, the city’s municipal broadband is almost 100 times faster than the nation’s average speeds and costs about the same as a fully loaded cable bundle elsewhere in the country.
“In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one that you’ve got here in Cedar Falls,” Obama said. “So today, I’m saying we’re going to change that. Enough’s enough. We’re going to change that so every community can do the smart things you guys are doing.”
As part of the administration’s efforts, the White House will host a community broadband summit in June with mayors and county commissioners from around the nation. The initiatives are also highlighted in a newly released White House report that looks at broadband’s economic benefits, its challenges and the examples of other cities’ community-based broadband options.
The president’s latest proposals build on his plan for net neutrality, announced in November, and come as the Federal Communications Commission has pushed the issue of rural broadband through its E-Rate subsidy program. In December, the commission increased the program’s spending cap to $3.9 billion to allow schools and libraries in rural and underprivileged areas access to better broadband and Wi-Fi connections.
According to a fact sheet from the White House, the Obama administration is also filing a letter with the FCC urging it to join its broadband expansion efforts and address the FCC-enabled barriers that inhibit local communities from acting on broadband expansion.
Although Obama placed the blame for barriers to broadband at the state and local levels, and the FCC, some organizations have weighed in to criticize the FCC specifically. Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization for open government, applauded the president for his efforts to open up competition in the broadband market through municipality-backed broadband utilities and called on the FCC to remove barriers.
“Special interests have choked off broadband competition, consigning American consumers to high prices and piddling speeds,” Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner and Common Cause special adviser, said in a statement. “The FCC should move decisively to set aside these anticompetitive, anticonsumer rules.”
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