Broad coalition supports Community Internet NEO needs - Central Ohio Legislator opposes

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 02/24/2005 - 01:08.

Case's Weatherhead School of Management Center for Regional Economic Issues (REI) and other community leaders support an initiative to distribute used computers and ease access to free or low cost Internet access for area residents in financial hardship. The first community being supported through this vision is East Cleveland, where REI drives ECHO - "Extending Community Home Online" - as part of an East Cleveland 2010 community redevelopment initiative. This effort is not in social service for the poor of East Cleveland but a critical initiative for economic development for this entire NEO region.

In the simplest visualization of why East Cleveland matters, realize any cancer kills the entire body. To counter our region's cancers, all community leaders need as many tools and resources available as possible to enable change. Ideally, they need the help of Federal, State and County governments - more important, they don't need undue legislation outlawing best practices to make change, like for bridging digital divides. Yet a Southern Ohio legislator has introduced policy to outlaw some flexibility for communities to offer internet access to citizens. Today a broad national coalition of communities and organizations condemned such ill-conceived legislation spreading like an epidemic across America, even as society and communities nationwide broadly recognize the criticality of low-barrier internet access not only for local economic development but for the sustainability of America's new economy. Read on to become more informed, and visit ECHO to see REI help Extend Community Home Online in East Cleveland.

Broad coalition supports Community Internet

More than 60 national, state and local groups call on state and federal officials not to establish barriers to universal, affordable broadband access

WASHINGTON — In an open letter released today, more than 60 national, state and local organizations - representing hundreds of thousands of Americans - declared their support for allowing municipalities and other public entities to deploy broadband systems.

The letter opposes the campaign by incumbent telephone and cable providers to push legislation through numerous state legislatures that would either ban or make it more difficult for municipalities to deploy broadband systems. "We call on all states considering such legislation to reject it as harmful to the interests of their citizens," the letter declares.

Municipal broadband systems provide a necessary means of bringing broadband to many rural communities and poorer urban neighborhoods that lack broadband access or have only one provider. Without the possibility of municipal deployment, these communities will continue to suffer as businesses and residents move to better-connected areas.

"Unfortunately, too many Americans find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide," said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press, the national, non-partisan media reform group. "Commercial broadband is nowhere close to providing affordable, competitive universal access."

Incumbent telecom and cable firms have vigorously opposed entry by municipal systems, and have lobbied state legislatures to pass bills that prohibit municipal deployments or impose significant delays. The most high-profile fight occurred last November in Pennsylvania, but 13 other states have similar laws and eight more states have bills pending.

"Municipalities should be able to meet the needs of their local communities," said Harold Feld, senior vice president of Media Access Project (MAP), a non-profit, public interest law firm that works on media and telecom matters. "They shouldn't have to hemorrhage jobs or fail to provide vital services because incumbents would rather regulate than compete."

So far this year, eight states have seen bills introduced that would ban or limit the ability of municipalities to provide network services for their residents: Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon and Texas. More states are expected to follow in the months ahead.

The open letter is signed by more than a dozen major national consumer groups and media reform organizations, including the Alliance for Community Media, the Association for Community Networking, the Center for Creative Voices in Media, the Center for Digital Democracy, Common Cause, Consumer Action, the Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, EDUCAUSE, Media Channel, the New America Foundation, the Office of Communication of United Church of Christ, Prometheus Radio Project and U.S. PIRG.

Local governments, municipal utilities and community media outlets from 19 states and the District of Columbia also endorsed the letter. Among the signatories are Akaku: Maui Community TV; the Borough of Kutztown, Pa; the City of Geneva, Ill.; the Florida Municipal Electric Association; the Illinois Municipal Utilities Association; the Iowa Association of Municipal Utilities; Lafayette (La.) Pro Fiber; and the Mountain Area Information Network.

In addition, the letter is signed by a number of the nation's most innovative community networking projects, such as the Austin (Texas) Wireless City Project; the Champaign-Urbana (Ill.) Community Wireless Network; Chicago's Center for Neighborhood Technology; and NYC Wireless. Using different combinations of software and hardware these groups already are providing towns, neighborhoods and campuses with high-speed, low-cost broadband services

The letter will officially be made public during a Capitol Hill briefing on the benefits of municipal wireless networks scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Russell Senate Office Building, Room 253.

"As a nation, we cannot afford to cut off any successful strategy if we want to remain internationally competitive," the letter concludes. "Nor should any state stand in the way of local governments serving the needs of local citizens."

Read the letter.

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