Community Broadband


Many communities are setting up “community broadband” networks, or high-speed Internet networks that anyone in the community can access for free. Community broadband benefits citizens by allowing everyone, regardless of economic status, to utilize the Internet. Common Cause supports workable community broadband efforts, as they increase the ability of citizens to participate actively in our democracy.


 Communities throughout the country are finding that they can provide more efficient, affordable and accessible broadband Internet service than the telecom giants currently dominating their markets. Community wireless uses unlicensed space on the public airwaves to provide dependable high-speed Internet connections to homes all across America, community by community, without the high cost and hassle of traditional phone and cable wires. This technology has the potential to revolutionize how we create, distribute and access information.


     As a result of intense lobbying by and campaign contributions from Internet providers and cable and telephone companies several states have passed laws that prohibit municipal governments from setting up community broadband networks. Federal legislation should affirm the rights of all municipalities to establish broadband networks as they see fit.


     Related to this is allowing public utilities to provide broadband Internet service through their existing networks and dark fiber capacity. Public electric utilities already have a network on which to distribute broadband service. In particular, if the utility has fiber-optic capacity that is not currently in use (“dark fiber”), broadband Internet can be provided quickly and easily at low cost to consumers. However, competition is the last thing that cable and phone companies want. In Nebraska, they used their financial and lobbying muscle to ban the Nebraska Public Power District, a statewide public utility, from providing broadband service through its network. This is despite the fact that in many locations where NPPD would be able to provide service, the cable and phone companies do not currently provide broadband.


     The United States does not have a coherent and comprehensive strategy for development and enhancement of broadband.  This must be addressed. The US has slipped in broadband penetration rankings from 4th place in 2001 to 15th place in 2007 among nations surveyed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. The FCC should be empowered to begin work on developing a strategy that addresses broadband deployment, its costs, and the future design of broadband technology. Economically, this is critical. The Brookings Institution estimated that America’s slow growth of broadband compared to other nations could lead to a potential loss of $1 trillion in economic productivity over the next decade. However, a successfully implemented broadband strategy could create as many as 1.2 million new jobs in America according to the same report. While a rational broadband policy is critical for equal political participation, its economic benefits are equally important.

We have joined local governments and public interest groups across the country in a grassroots campaign to fight legislation that would ban cities and towns from setting up wireless networks.  Our efforts are already taking hold in Illinois and Indiana where we've helped defeat anti-community wireless bills. 




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