Dear Members and Advisors of CLIC:
A little over a year ago, CLIC was formed with a singular goal: to unite a wide array of individuals, government entities, private companies, and organizations around the idea that our nation’s interests are best served when communities are free to identify their broadband infrastructure needs and determine the best path by which their community can meet those needs. Since then, CLIC has worked to bring new members into the organization, fight against local Internet choice barriers, and raise awareness of this critically important issue. We have been thrilled with the energy and excitement that CLIC and, more importantly, local choice issues have generated during CLIC’s inaugural year.
With critical initial support from the Ford Foundation, we developed a strategic plan and mission statement, hired key personnel, developed a website and Twitter presence, formed an outstanding Board of Advisors, and began to produce independent content. Thanks in large measure to the shared vision and generosity of Scott DeGarmo, we formed a strategic alliance with Broadband Communities, and we now work extensively with that group to produce and publish content, both in its magazine and at its conferences. (You can find our article “Economic Development: The Killer App for Local Fiber Networks” here: http://goo.gl/1pmbrU).
We partnered with the Glen Echo Group, a Washington-based public affairs firm, whose team (particularly Maura Corbett and Ellen Satterwhite) was instrumental in helping us develop and spread our message. We worked closely with our allies at Next Century Cities, collaborating regularly with Deb Socia, Chris Mitchell, and Sam Gill. Also, at the request of various members of Congress and their staffs, we participated in numerous educational briefings on the value of local Internet choice and threats to it.
As CLIC grew, we were frequently invited to support particular kinds of business models or to take positions on various other policy issues. CLIC respectfully declined. To us, the issue of local Internet choice is so fundamental, that it stands on its own, and we deliberately built a wide-ranging coalition of entities and individuals who all agree on that fundamental issue, even if they disagree on other issues. We also positioned CLIC at the confluence of the interests of the public and private sectors, because local Internet choice is not only a matter of concern for local governments; rather, it is enormously important to the business community that localities have the freedom to advance the nation’s broadband interests.
The Wilson/Chattanooga Proceeding
Our first year was a very busy and successful one. In July 2014, the City of Wilson, NC, and the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, TN, asked the Federal Communications Commission to strike down the provisions of North Carolina and Tennessee law that posed barriers to public broadband investment and competition in those states. This proceeding provided a crucial platform for a much-need national conversation about local Internet choice. It also posed a major challenge for CLIC, as some of our key members and allies, while strongly supportive of local Internet choice, were reluctant to endorse a broad interpretation of the FCC’s authority to preempt state (and local) authority. CLIC met this challenge by again focusing on our core mission and leaving the authority issue to others.
So, during the seven months between July 2014 and February 2015, when the FCC granted the petitions, CLIC worked tirelessly to encourage hundreds of individuals and entities to file comments with the FCC focusing on the benefits of local Internet choice and the harms caused by barriers such as the ones before the FCC and elsewhere across America. CLIC also worked extensively with the media to provide our side of the relevant factual, legal, and policy issues. In addition, CLIC drafted or facilitated the publication of scores of articles, op-eds, blogs, and letters about the merits of local Internet choice and about the errors and misstatements about community broadband that incumbent broadband carriers and their followers often espouse.
As we had hoped, the FCC’s written opinion dated March 12, 2015, strongly endorsed local Internet choice in the course of explaining the Commission’s decision of February 26 in favor of Wilson and Chattanooga. Based on the hundreds of comments that it had received – creating by far the most comprehensive record ever assembled on community broadband – the FCC rejected the myths about community broadband initiatives that opponents often almost reflexively raise. In particular, the FCC dived deeply into the specific requirements of the North Carolina law at issue, which also appear in the laws of several other states and have often been touted as necessary to achieve “fair competition” or create a “level playing field” for private sector. The FCC found that these provisions are anything but fair and balanced and in fact impose severe, asymmetric burdens on public entities, stifle broadband investment, and thwart meaningful competition to incumbent service providers – to the detriment of local communities, including the private sector.
Not surprisingly, the States of Tennessee and North Carolina have appealed FCC’s decision, and the matter is currently before the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. These appeals focus primarily on whether the FCC has authority to preempt state barriers, not on whether the FCC, as the expert agency in the field, appropriately made the factual findings that it did. As a result, no matter how the Sixth Circuit decides the authority issue, the FCC’s opinion will remain an important fact-based tool for supporters of local Internet choice. An important challenge and opportunity for us in the year ahead is to make the most of this invaluable decision and the public record the FCC relied upon.
CLIC Day at the Broadband Communities Summit
In mid-April, CLIC hosted a one day event – dubbed “CLIC Day” – before the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin, Texas. The day was filled with constructive discussion about how communities can preserve, protect, and, where necessary, restore local Internet choice, with speakers ranging from community organizers to politicians, business leaders, and academics. In particular, Professor John Eger delivered a stirring keynote address about why cities must play a central role in driving America’s success in the years and decades ahead and about why ubiquitous, affordable, and open access to advanced broadband connectivity to the Internet is essential to the future success of our cities. This engaging CLIC event generated increased CLIC’s membership by about 10 percent, pushing us up over the 300 mark.
Victory in Missouri
During the last year, CLIC also fought new proposed state barriers and worked to shape policies that will foster community involvement in broadband deployment. For example, when legislation was proposed in Missouri to create artificial barriers for communities seeking to provide communications services, we responded. CLIC’s president, Jim Baller, coordinated a multi-party letter to the Missouri legislature that noted the damage the proposed bill would do to economic activity and business opportunity in the state. The letter was signed by a range of prominent technology companies and national organizations. According to our allies in the trenches at the Missouri legislature, the letter played a significant role in halting the initial momentum of the bills and discouraging the co-sponsors of the bills from pressing hard for passage. As a result, the bills did not come up for votes on the House or Senate floors before the legislative session ended. You can view the letter here: http://goo.gl/DaZrdO.
Comments to the Broadband Opportunity Council
CLIC also recently filed comments responding to the Broadband Opportunity Counsel’s request for comments on how federal policies can better support communities and promote broadband adoption and deployment. CLIC suggested numerous ways that the Broadband Opportunity Counsel could help various federal departments and agencies to remove barriers and facilitate more effective broadband deployments. For example, CLIC suggested that federal broadband funding should be coordinated across federal agencies to reduce silos and that federal broadband policies should enable coordination between all levels of government to promote use of Federally-funded broadband assets, such as federally-funded, state-administered transportation infrastructure. The full comments are available here: https://goo.gl/vlgXqT.
The Critical Year Ahead
While CLIC’s first year was largely successful, we still have a long way to go to establish local Internet choice as the norm for our nation. New barriers are proposed in the states every year, forcing us to respond again and again. Also, with the state barriers in North Carolina and Tennessee now preempted, we still have barriers in many other states that need to be removed or rolled back. To do that, we must make local Internet choice as non-partisan an issue at the national and state levels as it is at the local level.
As we look toward the future, we are excited about the ways CLIC will continue to further its mission. CLIC is continuing to grow, and it recently added two new board members: John Eger and Jane Patterson. John and Jane are fierce advocates of local Internet choice, and we look forward to the many contributions they will bring to our truly dynamic Board. We regret only that Charles Benton will not be able to join us in welcoming John and Jane to the Board. Charles, a giant in our field for many decades, passed away in April. A good summary of his amazing life is available here: http://goo.gl/64UAV8
In addition, CLIC is hosting another event in conjunction with Broadband Communities during its Economic Development Conference on September 18, 2015 in Lexington, Kentucky. During the Lexington conference, we will continue to discuss and explore the theme of protecting local choice. In keeping with our positioning at the intersection of the public and private sectors, CLIC will also discuss ways the public and private sector can work together to advance our nation’s broadband goals. In particular, CLIC has been developing a major paper on the business and legal considerations involved in broadband public-private partnerships, and we will be presenting on the paper during the conference. We will send an update about this event in the near future, but please mark your calendars as we would love to see many of you there.
We owe special thanks to our Board of Advisors for the successes we have had this year. It has been a tremendous asset to have a Board that includes such accomplished individuals from a wide range of backgrounds, who deeply share our commitment to local Internet choice. We are excited about continuing to build the coalition, particularly at the regional level around the nation.
To all of our members, we are still working to make CLIC the best organization it can be. To that end, we invite you to share your ideas and suggestions with us. We appreciate your perspectives and would benefit greatly from your thoughts. We look forward to working with you in the year ahead.
With great admiration,
Jim Baller, Joanne Hovis, Catharine Rice, Chris Mitchell, and Ashley Stelfox