WASHINGTON, July 15, 2014 - While interest in high-bandwidth internet is growing every year, many communities remain unserved because state laws inhibit local networks, according to local broadband activists. That's why the Coalition for Local Internet Choice launched last month: to demonstrate the importance of giving local communities authority over their own networks.
"It's hard to conceive of any community in this era having at its disposal the full range of educational tools, health care services, government services, and other essential aspects of modern American life without robust Internet access," said CTC Technology & Energy President Joanne Hovis.
The internet is how people today build and promote their businesses, Hovis said. It's how they work at home, participate in community life, and more importantly, engage in political and democratic discourse. Yet, many localities often have very few broadband options that offer good service at a reasonable price.
CLIC's goal is to show that communities adopting their own strategy have greater access to educational resources, better economic development and productivity, lower prices, and more job opportunities, said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks program at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
Many localities are actually excluded, Mitchell added, from forming partnerships with private partners to build their own networks. Thus, they're often left with either an inefficient incumbent provider, or none at all because commercial giants won’t invest.
Nevada, for example, has erected barriers effectively banning small community owned networks. Cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee, on the other hand, have opened the door for an abundance of opportunities, Hovis said. That has led to next-generation internet access of robust fiber networks.
"According to the [national broadband] map, it may look like my wife's parents have good service, but they don't and are being asked to pay a large amount of money for poor access on slow [digital subscriber line service]," said Mitchell. "They would subscribe if they had a good choice available at a decent price."
Given the coalition's infancy, CLIC is in the preliminary stages of developing specific long-term goals. For now, Hovis said, CLIC is focused on following the FCC in its efforts to preempt bans on community-owned networks.
"We are confident that the demand for high-quality services is there," Hovis said. "The country has never been more aware of the importance of this infrastructure for economic activity and democratic discourse. Demand without availability is a big problem, and we're trying to address the availability side by saying that localities shouldn't be restricted.
Mitchell said that CLIC doesn't support any particular outcome. While more interest may be expressed over time in local networks, it doesn't mean commercial networks won't coexist with community-owned networks.
"I do think we will have a wide range of different kinds of network owners, network operators, and services," Hovis said. "CLIC is not saying one way is better than any other. Every community should be able to choose how it operates. Perhaps [a community] feels it has no need to do anything in this space. That's just fine. Ideally, we will enable all models and they will all flourish because that's how we will make up for the broadband deficit."