Remembering Senator McCain: A Champion of Local Internet Choice

by Jim Baller, CLIC President

Senator John McCain was a very special person. As is evident from the outpouring of tributes following his death, he touched millions of Americans with his patriotism, his wisdom, his courage, his fundamental decency, and his grace. In these divisive times, we need many more leaders like him, from all political parties.

Senator McCain was a particular hero to advocates of local Internet choice.  In the mid-2000s, he and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) co-sponsored a bill called the “Community Broadband Act” that would have banned state barriers to local broadband initiatives, while protecting private carriers from discriminatory local regulation.  The bill drew broad bipartisan support in both houses of Congress and came close to becoming law in 2006.

Much of what Senator McCain said on the Senate floor at the time he introduced the bill remains as true and compelling today as it was then:

“… Many of the countries outpacing the United States in the deployment of high-speed Internet services, including Canada, Japan, and South Korea, have successfully combined municipal systems with privately deployed networks to wire their countries. As a country, we cannot afford to cut off any successful strategy if we want to remain internationally competitive.

“I recognize that our Nation has a long and successful history of private investment in critical communications infrastructure. That history must be respected, protected, and continued. However, when private industry does not answer the call because of market failures or other obstacles, it is appropriate and even commendable, for the people acting through their local governments to improve their lives by investing in their own future.

“In many rural towns, the local government’s high-speed Internet offering may be its citizens only option to access the World Wide Web. Despite this situation, a few incumbent providers of traditional telecommunications services have attempted to stop local government deployment of community high-speed Internet services. The bill would do nothing to limit their ability to compete. In fact, the bill would provide them an incentive to enter more rural areas and deploy services in partnership with local governments.

“This partnership will not only reduce the costs to private firms, but also ensure wider deployment of rural services. Additionally, the bill would aid private providers by prohibiting a municipality when acting as both ‘regulator’ and ‘competitor’ from discriminating against competitors in favor of itself.

“Several newspapers have endorsed the concept of allowing municipalities to choose whether to offer high speed Internet services. USA Today rightfully questioned in an editorial, ‘Why shouldn’t citizens be able to use their own resources to help themselves?’ The Washington Post editorialized that the offering of high speed Internet services by localities is, ‘…the sort of municipal experiment we hope will spread.’ The San Jose Mercury News stated that a ban on localities ability to offer such services is ‘bad for consumers, bad for technology and bad for America’s hopes of catching up to other countries in broadband deployment.’  Finally, the Tampa Tribune lectured Federal and State legislators, ‘don’t prohibit local elected officials from providing a service their communities need.’”

We at CLIC thank Senator McCain for his herculean contributions to local Internet choice, and we pledge to continue to do all that we can to achieve his and our shared goals.

–Jim Baller, CLIC President

*PHOTO: CLIC President Jim Baller, in his capacity as a FirstMile.US board member, together with FirstMile.US President Susan Estrada, presenting Senator McCain in 2005 with an award for his efforts to protect local broadband choice.