Municipal broadband is becoming a contentious issue in the race to establish ubiquitous high-speed Internet throughout the United States.
Last year, the FCC called on every state in the U.S. to reach 1-Gig internet speeds in at least one community by 2015. That challenge came after Google introduced its Fiber program to Kansas City, Kan., where gigabit speeds are available at the same cost most other ISPs charge for much slower services.
However, incumbent ISPs across the country have pushed back against these efforts. Shortly after the FCC's challenge, Irene Esteves, chief financial officer for Time Warner Cable, said that gigabit speeds are not necessary for most of its customers, and that the company saw little demand for it.
Regardless of whether that was true, cable lobbyists at the same time took legal measures to prevent municipalities from providing high-speed Internet to their residents. Legislation prohibiting the development of municipal broadband networks has already been passed in 20 states, and efforts continue to bring these bills up for consideration in new ones.
A recent debate in Kansas is a sign that these efforts are becoming more aggressive. After a bill reportedly written and introduced by the Kansas Cable and Telecommunications Association (KCTA), a cable lobbying organization consisting of incumbent ISPs, was referred to the state senate's Committee on Commerce in late January, the outcry of municipal broadband supporters in the state prompted the committee to postpone hearings on the bill so legislators could "tweak" the language. The bill's vague language essentially meant that ISPs could choose not to serve areas that received even the faintest satellite connectivity, but could sue municipalities in those areas if they chose to provide high-speed Internet services in the area.