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After Buffalo, Media and Tech Can’t Look Away Any Longer

This tragedy should be a catalyst to a fundamental reckoning.
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Washington — For the first time, groups representing local governments, the high tech industry, and consumer organizations have banded together to promote community broadband choices and the right of communities to provide broadband internet services to their citizens.

In a letter sent to Capitol Hill today, the groups urged Members of Congress to support legislation that will ensure that local governments are not prevented from providing broadband networks to their residents and businesses. The groups -- which collectively represent hundreds of high tech companies, thousands of cities and counties, and numerous consumer groups -- share a common commitment to extend the reach of broadband services throughout the country.

Referring to President Bush's priority to have universal, affordable access to broadband technology by 2007, the letter states, "We believe that community broadband networks provide an essential catalyst for market competition, economic development, and universal, affordable Internet access for all Americans.

"Without universal access to broadband, our nation's children will continue to fall behind in the technological literacy so essential to our future. Empowering local government will also benefit rural and high-cost areas and will speed deployment throughout the country, lessening the gap between the United States and other nations."

The coalition of more than 40 local, state and national organizations is working to promote community broadband choices. Across the country, municipalities -- often in direct partnership with the private sector -- are entering the broadband field in response to the growing demand for broadband access to the Internet.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., for example, small businesses have had difficulty obtaining reasonably priced broadband services. Service to many rural areas has also been painfully slow. When private companies offer their services only in areas where there is a high concentration of potential customers, or if they are not providing sufficiently robust bandwidth capacity, municipalities should be able to step in and offer these services.

Additionally, cities and towns should also be able to offer free or low-cost broadband services where the private sector has failed to make these services affordable to all residents and businesses. "Community broadband is not incompatible with private sector competition," the letter states.

In comparing the current effort to ensure Internet service in the 21st century with 19th century efforts to bring electricity to rural areas, the letter finds that "the choice should continue to be made by local leaders who are directly accountable to their communities, using open and competitively neutral processes, and should not be foreclosed by state or federal law."

Members of the coalition have been working to oppose efforts by states to restrict municipal governments from offering broadband to their constituents. Already, 13 states have adopted restrictions on future public broadband projects. Regardless of whether broadband is included in the congressional effort to reauthorize the Communications Act or in separate legislation, the coalition wants to ensure that municipalities retain a free hand in the process.

Groups and companies signing on to the letter (including media contacts, where available) include:

American Association of Law Libraries

American Electronics Association (AeA)

American Library Association, Bernadette Murphy, 202-628-8410

American Public Power Association, Desmarie Waterhouse, 202-467-2900

Association of Research Libraries

Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education

Champaign Urbana Wireless Network

EDUCAUSE

Eyapaha Institute

Fiber to the Home Council, Joe Savage, 503-635-3114

Free Press, Ben Scott, 202-265-1490, bscott@freepress.net

Information Technology Association of America

Internet2

Intertribal Entertainment

League of California Cities

MIGIZI Communications

The Media Access Project, Harold Feld, 202-454-5684, hfled@mediaaccess.org

National American Indian Development Corporation

National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Libby Beaty, 703-519-8035

National Association of Counties

National League of Cities, Sherry Conway Appel, 202-626-3003, appel@nlc.org

Native American Public Telecommunications

Native Airspace

Native Laboratories

Native Media and Technology Network

Native Networking Policy Center

One Economy

Power Line Communications Association

Public Knowledge

Public Technology Institute

Red Crow Creations

Rural Broadband Coalition

Soar Records

Southern California Indian Center

TeleCommUnity, Michael Bracy, 202 331-2958

Tropos Networks, Jay Roberts, 212-924-2582, jay@mediafirstpr.com

United PowerLine Council

US Conference of Mayors, Elena Temple, 202-861-6719, etemple@usmayors.org

United Telecom Council

Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA), Maura Carabello, 801-537-0900

Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, issued a similar letter of support today. Contact, Matthew Hartwig, 202-462-6262

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