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Obama to Forge New Paths for Broadband Competition

In a preview of the president's upcoming State of the Union, Barack Obama told of how he will encourage municipal competition in the broadband marketplace.

Speaking to a crowd in Cedar Falls, Iowa, on Jan. 14, President Obama noted that the city of 40,000 was living proof that grass-roots broadband networks could compete in the market. During next week’s State of the Union Address, the president will expand on the sentiment, explaining how the federal government will take actions to encourage competition to incumbent broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T.

"In too many places across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors," Obama said. "In some states it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one you've got here in Cedar Falls. Today I'm saying we're going to change that."

The president will encourage competition in an increasingly monopolized broadband market, in part through federal grant and loan opportunities for Internet service providers to be offered by the Federal Communications Commission. The president’s speech coincides with a White House report released this month titled Community-Based Broadband Solutions (PDF), which encourages the termination of laws in 19 states impeding municipal broadband competition. 

“Communities around the country like Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., have developed a variety of strategies for building locally owned broadband networks and promoting higher-speed Internet access,” the report reads. “Over the past few years, these municipal networks have emerged as a critical tool for increasing access, encouraging competition, fostering consumer choice, and driving local and regional economic development. […] President Obama believes that there should be a level playing field for community-based solutions and is announcing today a series of steps that the Administration will be taking to foster consumer and community choice.”

That the president should place such emphasis on development of American broadband was welcomed by many, both in Cedar Falls and elsewhere, who have clamored for increased marketplace competition for years, while those opposed to expensive municipal broadband projects were less enthusiastic.

Colin wrote for Government Technology and Emergency Management from 2010 through most of 2016.