The President’s speech yesterday in Cedar Rapids, IA called needed attention to the nation’s serious broadband problem—namely, that little to no competition exists when it comes to broadband networks. Even with a favorable net neutrality ruling from the FCC seeming imminent, the vibrancy of the Internet economy remains at risk, tethered to a few oligopoly Internet Service Providers. These ISPs have tacitly divvied up geographic markets across the country, blocking competition and offering lower speeds and higher costs than those in peer nations. Increasing competition in broadband markets won’t be accomplished overnight, but the plan the President has outlined offers some key strategies for getting competitive broadband options to cities throughout the country.
Echoing sentiments from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this year, the President called on the FCC to overrule anti-competitive laws on the books in 19 states that prevent municipalities from providing broadband networks for their citizens. These laws—typically enacted at the behest of large ISPs—provide no public benefit, instead merely shielding ISPs from competition at the expense of local choice. As cities like Chattanooga, TN, Danville, VA, and Lafayette, LA have shown, building next-generation networks helps draw startup activity and grow the local economy, in addition to providing a much needed service to residents. Free from competitive pressures, ISPs have shown little interest in building the high-speed networks that will soon be necessary to compete internationally. The President’s plan to free cities from ISP-driven bans on municipal broadband is a long-overdue step towards getting the U.S. back on track with peer nations.
The President outlined other creative measures to prompt broadband infrastructure investment, including grants for rural areas to build high-speed networks, and a program to remove regulatory red tape that slows down broadband investment. All in all, it’s heartening for the startup community to hear concrete policy proposals to fix a broadband competition problem that is getting increasingly hard to ignore. The President’s plan is a strong step towards making the U.S. a leader in broadband innovation and ensuring that entrepreneurs can continue to create good tech jobs in cities and towns across the country.