Rosenworcel Says Anti-Muni Network Legislation Unfair, Hopes States Change Their Tune

FCC acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said she hopes state legislatures change stance on muni builds.

Rosenworcel Says Anti-Muni Network Legislation Unfair, Hopes States Change Their Tune
FCC headquarters

April 28, 2021—Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Tuesday that legislation in nearly half the U.S. states restricting municipal broadband network builds is unfair.

“It feels like the most democratic and American thing to do to say, ‘Let’s come together and figure out how to solve our problems.’ Our forebears did that with bridges, electricity, with roads,” Rosenworcel said in response to a question about legal provisions that bar local governments from offering a public broadband service.

“If the market wasn’t delivering, we came together as communities and we solved our problems. It feels really American–that’s in our DNA,” she added.

The chairwoman sat down with Matt Dunne from the Center on Rural Innovation to discuss her vision for sustainable, equitable, and universal broadband for all Americans at the Route Fifty event discussing the digital divide, which featured questions about broadband infrastructure expansion in the wake of President Joe Biden administration’s “American Jobs Plan.”

The legislation puts a particular emphasis on the benefits of local and municipal broadband builds and aims to provide access to high-speed internet to all Americans by 2030.

Rosenworcel argued that to get the U.S. to 100 percent broadband coverage, it would require a melting pot of solutions and technologies, emphasizing that she hoped the various state legislatures across the country that have banned municipal broadband efforts would reconsider the issue soon.

Washington state recently walked back some of those restrictions on municipal builds.

FCC priorities

Rosenworcel said she had several pressing priorities, but she made it clear in no uncertain terms that she shares the Biden Administration’s goal of universal broadband, and that addressing these priorities was progress toward the overarching target of 100 percent coverage.

Proponents of the Emergency Broadband Benefit have touted it as an effort to relieve some of the financial pressure that households have been dealing with during the pandemic. “There’s evidence out there from the Pew Research Center that suggests one in three households are struggling to pay their internet bills during the pandemic,” Rosenworcel said, “Affordability needs to be addressed.”

Rosenworcel continued by saying she believes that the FCC is just days away from a final announcement regarding the program.

Local solutions

She described the creative solutions that many jurisdictions were devising to address the unique issues that different communities were facing; in her hometown of Hartford, Connecticut, the local government launched an assessment to determine which students lacked access to broadband, and with that data were able to better determine which communities required assistance and how they could best meet their needs.

She also lauded rural school districts that began deploying Wi-Fi services on school buses. “Rural students spend a lot of time on their buses— [school districts] can now turn that ride time into connected time for homework at a pretty low cost and help kids who may not otherwise be connected at home.”

Rosenworcel pointed to these kinds of creative efforts as the solutions that will be necessary to address the homework gap. “I think counting and being creative are the two most important things to do,” she said. “Take note of what other communities are doing—there’s no reason not to copy what’s working elsewhere.”

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