Mayors of Boston, Seattle, KC, others: No more muni broadband restrictions, please

U.S. cities ask FCC to clear way for public utility Internet services.

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A group of 38 mayors and other elected officials from cities like Boston, Seattle, and Kansas City Thursday urged the FCC to strike down state laws that restrict the development of public high-speed Internet services and allow municipal networks to flourish.

In an open letter to the FCC commissioners, the Next Century Cities group emphasized the importance of universal access to high-speed Internet services.

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“It is increasingly clear that ultra-fast, next-generation Internet networks are the key to building and sustaining thriving communities, as essential as good healthcare, great schools, and reliable public safety,” the letter stated. “Providing high-quality Internet is inarguably essential to safeguarding the public interest in the years and decades to come.”

The ability to make that service generally available, according to Next Century Cities, requires that regulators give local governments a free hand in how they approach the problem – which includes, for many, the creation of municipal broadband networks.

The group notes that two communities represented in the signatories to the letter – Wilson, N.C. and Chattanooga, Tenn. – have already asked the FCC to intervene on their behalves, as their public initiatives have been restricted by state laws.

Next Century Cities also appears to have a powerful ally in the form of President Barack Obama, who publicly stated his opposition to state restrictions on municipal broadband in a wide-ranging broadband proposal released earlier this month. The director of the President’s National Economic Council, Jeff Zients, bemoaned the lack of options available to Americans at a press briefing for the announcement.

Unsurprisingly, major cable companies like Comcast and TWC have been full-throated in their opposition to the development of public-sector alternatives to their service, and have spent large sums of money on helping to pass heavy restrictions on their development at every level.

A 2013 Washington Post report detailed campaigns to unseat a Seattle mayor who supported the creation of a municipal fiber network, a lawsuit against the aforementioned municipal fiber deployment in Chattanooga, and a fierce campaign against a ballot initiative that would have approved such a network in the Colorado city of Longmont.

The cable industry’s more recent lobbying efforts have focused on battling proposed Title II regulation, which would classify broadband Internet services as a public utility and subject it to heavier consumer protection oversight, and on fighting critics of a proposed merger between Comcast and TWC.

The Verge, earlier this week, aired some of those campaigns’ dirty laundry, detailing pre-written letters of support for the merger to be signed by elected officials to whose campaigns Comcast had helped to fund.

** Editors note: “A Longmont spokesperson who contacted Network World after this story originally ran said that the city subsequently passed a second referendum on municipal Internet service in 2011, and broke ground on a citywide fiber network last August. The network is due to be completed in 2017.”

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