WASHINGTON, January 14, 2015 - The White House on Tuesday announced efforts to end laws that harm broadband competition, several steps to support a growing national movement of local leaders for Gigabit Networks, plus new federal funding and a new initiative to support community broadband.
The announcements came on Tuesday in advance of an anticipated Wednesday speech by President Obama in Cedar Falls, Iowa. The speech is expected to "announce steps he will discuss in the State of the Union to help more Americans, in more communities around the country, get access to fast and affordable broadband."
"Going back a century, in the 1930s, many argued that electricity was a luxury, and too modern for [many rural communities] to take advantage of," White House Director of the National Economic Council Jeff Zients said Tuesday.
"Broadband is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity," he said.
In particular, the White House announced its support for the Next Century Cities Coalition of 50 cities, and the Gig.U partnership of 37 research universities, aimed at bringing super-fast broadband to their respective communities.
"To recognize these remarkable individuals and the partnerships they have built, in June 2015 the White House will host a Community Broadband Summit of mayors and county commissioners from around the nation who are joining this movement for broadband solutions and economic revitalization," the White House said.
The administration compared these recent actions to the US Ignite partnership "launched by White House in 2012, and which has grown to include more than 65 research universities and 35 cities in developing new next-generation gigabit applications."
In a fact sheet, the White House said that communities like Cedar Falls have "banded together to commit to broadband [that leverages] municipal investments" and forms new partnerships to bring Gigabit Networks as a means of economic development.
The president also praised Gigabit networks in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Kansas City, Missouri; and Layfayette, Louisiana, "all of which have internet speeds nearly 100 times faster than the national average and deliver it an affordable price."
Additionally, the White House announced a new Broadband Opportunity Council charged with "the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting" broadband adoption, a new initiative of the Commerce Department to support community broadband, new grant and loan opportunities for rural providers.
Zients said that this new Broadband Opportunity Council will bring together more than a dozen government entities and that it "will solicit comments" aimed at "greater coordination [over] streamlining" rules that can impede community-based fiber projects.
The new BroadbandUSA initiative at the Commerce Department builds upon the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act's broadband stimulus efforts from 2009 to 2013. In particular, the White House said, "BroadbandUSA will offer online and in-person technical assistance to communities; host a series of regional workshops around the country; and publish guides and tools that provide communities with proven solutions to address problems in broadband infrastructure planning, financing, construction, and operations across many types of business models."
Zients was joined in a press call with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who spoke about the role that the city's Gigabit Network -- run as a separate entity by the city's electric utility -- has played in the economic revitalization of the city.
Zients said the White House would officially weigh into a Federal Communications Commission proceeding and was "formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure."
But municipal broadband isn't the only solution to the problem of too-slow internet connections. "There isn't a one size fits all solution," said Zients. "There are a number of different approaches. Every American should have better options for better, faster, broadband."
The White House also released a report on "Community-Based Broadband Solutions" to support the president's new broadband initiatives.