Washington – In a push to remove barriers to high-speed, affordable broadband for all Americans, President Obama has cited Manchester and Bristol among dozens of towns across the nation that have taken steps to improve local Internet access.
The Obama administration said that, “through innovative partnerships and smart municipal policies,” these communities are pioneering some of the fastest and most affordable broadband in the country.
In a trip to Iowa on Wednesday, Obama was expected to take aim at 19 states that have enacted barriers to community broadband. Those include Texas, Virginia and Pennsylvania.
“Ultimately what we’re talking about here is competition…what the president is suggesting is communities, particularly those communities served by essentially a cable monopoly or an Internet provider monopoly, should work together to introduce an additional option,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Among other steps, the White House says the president will use his executive power to preempt those state laws that restrict competition.
Connecticut, as well as the rest of the New England states, have no such barriers.
Yet, to date, Manchester and Bristol are the only two Connecticut towns who have taken full advantage of the opportunity, according to the White House.
Bristol has built a municipal fiber optic network that provides Internet access to the city’s agencies. The city’s information technology director, Scott Smith, said Bristol is working to provide free Wi-Fi in the city’s parks and sports stadium and eventually all outside spaces.
“That’s where we’re heading,” Smith said.
Other towns may follow Bristol and Manchester’s lead.
Forty-six municipalities, representing about half of Connecticut’s residents, have joined together in an attempt to create ultra-fast high speed internet in their communities.
New Haven, Stamford and West Hartford are in the lead on this program and have asked companies to bid to provide the service.
Connecticut Comptroller Kevin Lembo is also part of the effort.
“This initiative is essential in making Connecticut, and the country, globally competitive,” Lembo said. “Gigabit broadband service would rapidly deliver information – serving as a superhighway for researchers, schools, businesses large and small, and every household.”
Lembo praised Obama’s plan as “a pivotal move towards high-speed, low-cost Internet for all consumers and businesses.”
Obama’s push for municipal broadband is part of Obama’s net neutrality plan.
Cable and phone companies, including AT&T, Time Warner Cable and Comcast, lobbied state governments to establish barriers to municipal internet service because they did not want competition to drive down prices, says the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission concerning an effort by Chattanooga, Tenn., to establish municipal cable, AT&T argued that (government-owned networks) discourage private sector investment because of understandable concerns by private sector entities of a non-level playing field. And any policy that risks diminishing private-sector investment would be short-sighted and unwise.”
On Tuesday the White House release a report that said “competition has been slow to emerge at higher (broadband) speeds. The report also said that nearly 40 percent of Americans households either can’t purchase a land-based Internet connection or have only one choice of provider offering an Internet speed of 25 Mpbs, considered a baseline to receive full Internet service.
“Without strong competition, providers can (and do) raise prices, delay investments and provide subpar quality of service,” the report said.
Besides preempting state laws that have served as barriers, the president announced he would create a new Broadband Opportunity Council consisting of more than a dozen government agencies with the goal of speeding up broadband deployment. The president also said the federal government would spend more money to expand high-speed broadband access in rural areas.