FCC's Clyburn Condemns Pending Bills That Curb Municipal Broadband Efforts

A pending bill in North Carolina aimed at preventing cities from building their own broadband networks would prove a "significant barrier to broadband deployment," says Federal Communications Commission member Mignon Clyburn.

"This measure, if enacted ... will discourage municipal governments from addressing deployment in communities where the private sector has failed to meet broadband service needs," she adds in a statement condemning that bill, as well as pending measures in South Carolina and Arkansas.

Indeed, if past experience is any guide, municipal fiber-to-the-home networks may well be the best hope for offering consumers fast broadband service at relatively cheap prices. The initiatives are certainly the best hope for ending a current duopoly system in which many consumers are limited to a choice of two broadband providers -- their local cable or phone company.

Two towns in North Carolina recently built fiber-to-the-home networks. The first to do so, Wilson, offers broadband connections of 10 Mbps upstream and downstream, more than 80 cable channels and digital phone service for $100 a month. The second, Salisbury, offers speeds of 15 Mbps in both directions.

And that's just one state. In Tennessee, the city of Chattanooga recently built the fastest broadband network in the country: fiber-to-the-home connections that offer minimum speeds of 30 Mbps and maximum speeds of 1 Gbps.

The incumbent providers tend to argue that muni-broadband networks will lead to job losses -- apparently on the theory that current subscribers will abandon their providers in order to take advantage of the faster and cheaper local service. But the answer to that isn't for municipalities to stop building networks, but for the incumbent providers to improve their service.

Clyburn also points out that that the FCC called for Congress to make clear that localities shouldn't be prevented from building their own networks. That's a recommendation that has yet to be enacted.

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