What’s at Stake?
In the Twentieth Century, when electrification was essential to the economic vitality and quality of life of communities across America, municipalities filled service gaps left by private electric companies and thus played a critical role in America’s emergence as the leading economy in the world. Now, advanced communications capabilities have emerged as the electricity of the Twenty-First Century – the platforms and drivers of simultaneous progress in almost everything that is important to communities, including economic development, education, public safety, health care, transportation, energy, environmental protection, government services, urban revitalization, digital equity for rural and low income areas, democratic discourse, and much more.
As a result, communities are across America are seeking to acquire affordable access to advanced communications networks through a variety of strategies, including working with willing incumbents, entering into public-private partnerships with new entrants, developing their own networks, or pursuing other creative alternatives that may work for their communities. State barriers to local choice, almost always promoted by incumbent providers that seek to protect their inferior services from meaningful competition, are bad for the communities involved, bad for the private sector, particularly high technology companies, and bad for America’s global competitiveness. No such barriers should be enacted in the future, and all existing barriers should be removed as rapidly as possible.
What is Local Internet Choice?
According to the FCC, 4 out 5 Americans have no competitive choice for Internet speeds above 25 Mbps, a connection speed that should be “’table stakes’ in 21st century communications” according to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. In some cases, local governments have decided to ensure that local businesses and residents do have a choice, either by building their own network or partnering with a trusted entity. However, cable and telephone companies have successfully lobbied in 20 states to enact limits on local authority to ensure this competitive choice.
CLIC stands for Local Internet Choice – the principle that local governments should be able to decide for themselves if a municipal broadband network or partnership is in their best interests.
States Can Stop Cities From Building Networks?
Yes, states have wide latitude to empower or preempt local authority. And when the 1996 Telecommunications Act opened telecommunications to competition, the cable and telephone companies rapidly began lobbying states to restrict local authority in ways that have resulted in less competition for high capacity Internet networks.
Examples of Community Networks and Partnerships
Hundreds of local governments have built their own networks. Some of the most often cited networks are Chattanooga, Tennessee; Wilson, North Carolina; and Lafayette, Louisiana. In each of these cases, a city-owned electric utility built a network that competes with existing cable and telephone companies. Residents and businesses can choose between the city and national companies for high speed Internet access, television, and telephone services. These municipal networks were some of the first in the nation to offer citywide ultra-fast gigabit access.
There are many models for community broadband. In some cases, the city has built a physical network and allows one or more independent companies to use it to offer services within the community. Danville, Virginia, and Mount Vernon, Washington, have both seen significant job growth with this approach.
And in other cases, cities have partnered with private companies to get ultra-fast networks. Google has built networks after coming to agreements in Kansas City; Austin, TX; and Provo, UT. It is currently considering 9 additional metro areas. Another example is GWI in Maine, where the private ISP is working with multiple cities to offer its services.
What is Happening at the FCC?
The cities of Wilson and Chattanooga petitioned the FCC to remove aspects of their state laws that limit local authority. Neither city was permitted under state law to expand its services to nearby communities that desperately want access to each utility’s symmetrical Gigabit services. This decision not only set an important precedent on the right of the FCC to remove state barriers to local broadband initiatives, but it also encouraged state legislatures to repeal existing barriers on their local governments and to refrain from enacting new ones.
CLIC is a coalition of hundreds of businesses, trade groups, cities, individuals, and other entities that believe that the decision of how local communities gain access to modern broadband networks is best made at the local level. CLIC does not advocate for any particular approach, municipal network, partnership, or other involvement model. CLIC is focused on ensuring local governments have the authority to make these decisions locally.