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New Bill Would Let Cities Create Public Internet Services

Sen. Cory Booker says government-led investment created the Internet in "the first place"

By Livability.com on January 22, 2015

Photo courtesy of wikimedia via a Creative Commons License. Author: Bidgee

Just imagine if there was another choice when picking Internet service providers – one that wasn’t in business purely for profit. Your choices could look something like – Comcast, Verizon, AT&T or the City of _____.  That’s right, cities could soon offer public alternatives to big Internet providers. It’s going to take an act of Congress, literally, to get this done. More specifically, it will require an amendment to the nation’s telecom law in order for it to happen.

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has introduced a bill dubbed the Community Broadband Act that would block any state from creating regulations or legislation that would restrict municipalities from providing their own Internet network, according to multiple sources. Booker told the Washington Post that more cities should strive to be like Chattanooga, Tenn., where residents can get broadband plans that include download speeds up to 1 gigabit per second for $70 a month. Chattanooga’s Internet system is available to every home and business in the city (more than 150,000 structures). Utilizing a growing fiber optic network, the city’s broadband speeds can be 200 times faster than the current national average. City leaders see this investment as a way to attract entrepreneurs, create jobs and provide all residents with equal access to the Internet. 

Currently, 20 states have laws or regulations that ban cities from building their own broadband networks and providing residents with Internet services. Officials at Netflix wrote in a filing to the Federal Communications Commission that this “harms the entire Internet along with those citizens” in unserved or underserved areas. Wilson, N.C., which also offers high-speed Internet service to residents and businesses, has asked the federal government to overturn the restrictions placed by state leaders on their municipal broadband – Greenlight. Wilson offers residents Internet packages that start at $34.95 a month for up to 40Mbps and 1Gbps for $104.95. 

Booker’s bill comes after President Obama urged the FCC to use its existing authority to overturn state restrictions that keep cities from building their own broadband networks. Meanwhile, Republicans in both the House and Senate are pushing for new net neutrality rules that would decrease Internet oversight by the FCC, which is set to rule in February on how it will regulate Internet providers to ensure they don’t block users from certain websites or selectively slow download speeds. Some of the nation’s largest broadband providers believe that such a plan would come with unnecessary regulations on issues of pricing and how networks are managed. 

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