In 2011, the battle for the right of local governments to build their own broadband networks raged on, and at the heart of the firestorm was Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
A national expert on community broadband, Mitchell has worked to educate legislators and rally supporters against the efforts of large telecommunications and cable companies that make it more difficult for cities and counties to build high-speed networks.
Since Mitchell began working on community broadband issues, he said the private sector has made it clear it won’t build broadband networks everywhere they’re needed. So efforts are being redoubled to protect the ability of local governments build a municipality-owned high-speed networks.
“It’s not a matter of us working for some mandate that all communities build their own networks,” Mitchell said. “We support the requirement that just like a community can build a road if it wants to, it should be able to build the networks they need to attract economic development.”
In 2011, North Carolina enacted a bill that essentially bars community networks from being built. South Carolina is considering a bill that would place additional restrictions on rural communities looking to create their own networks.
“This is going to come up in state legislatures around the country,” he said. “I hope we’re able to rally more public interest and business groups to support the right of communities to make that decision themselves.”
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.