Obama endorses community broadband, tells agencies to support it

14 January 2015 by Steve Blum
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U.S. president Barack Obama plans to use his bully pulpit today to help advance the cause of community broadband. Yesterday afternoon, the white house released a 5 point program to boost local broadband speeds and “support economic growth”, including…

  • Ending state laws that “harm broadband service competition”.
  • Focusing on local leaders, including holding a local broadband summit at the white house in June.
  • Tasking the commerce department with providing technical assistance to local communities that want to develop broadband systems.
  • Implementing changes to rural broadband development programs approved by congress last year.
  • Creating a federal broadband council of more than a dozen government agencies with the remit of removing “all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition”.

What the list doesn’t include is new money to build broadband infrastructure – that would require the cooperation of congress – or concrete regulatory steps to remove barriers to broadband deployment or increase incentives.

Obama will be “filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission”, asking it to do something about state laws that restrict local governments from getting into the broadband business; the FCC is currently considering a request to do so. Although the FCC is an independent agency, when the president speaks, the commissioners – the democratic ones anyway – listen, and chair Tom Wheeler has already voiced support for the idea.

Along with the outline of the new program, the white house also released a report by the national economic council that goes a bit more into depth on these issues.

A presidential endorsement of community broadband is a great asset, and telling federal agencies to get to work on making it happen is a step in the right direction. Tangible help – money and regulatory reform – will be needed to actually make it happen.