June 23, 2005
McCain/Lautenberg community Internet legislation
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Joining with a broad coalition of municipalities, public interest organizations and technology advocates, Consumers Union today offered its strong support for new legislation that protects the rights of communities to offer broadband Internet service.
“Though the economic benefits of high-speed Internet access are undisputed, most Americans either don’t have access to it, or can’t afford it,” Consumers Union said in a letter today. “It is critical that the Community Broadband Act of 2005 be enacted to reinforce the right of all communities to offer their residents affordable high-speed Internet access.”
The legislation sponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), preserves the right of state and local governments to provide advanced telecommunications services including broadband networks. Local governments across the country are preparing to offer, or already provide, broadband services to their residents. The legislation responds to attempts by dominant phone and cable companies to pass state and federal legislation that would prohibit municipalities from offering broadband Internet services to their residents. Municipalities and community groups in nine states have defeated legislation to do so.
The letter noted that 70 percent of households still lack access to broadband either because it isn’t available or they can’t afford the high prices big cable or phone companies charge. The problem is particularly acute in rural areas, where half as many households have broadband access compared to urban dwellers.
“We can no longer allow the on-ramp to the Information Superhighway to be blocked for so many Americans,” said Jeannine Kenney, policy analyst for Consumers Union. “Congress needs to take this common sense step to protect the rights of communities to offer their residents the benefits of high-speed Internet access. If they don’t, monopoly providers will continue to leave millions of Americans behind and the digital divide will only grow wider.”
Consumers Union, the nonprofit publishers of Consumer Reports, has established a website to inform consumers about issues concerning the Internet. For more information, log on to www.HearUsNow.org.
A copy of the letter of support CU sent to Senators McCain and Lautenberg is attached.
June 23, 2005
Dear Senators McCain and Lautenberg:
Consumers Union, the publisher of Consumer Reports, strongly supports the Community Broadband Act of 2005 and applauds your leadership on this critical consumer issue.
The Community Broadband Act would protect local community’s choices to provide high-speed, or broadband Internet access for its citizens. Affordable high-speed access to the Internet is not a luxury; it has become a public necessity. Though the economic benefits of high-speed Internet access are undisputed, most Americans either don’t have access to it, or can’t afford it. It is critical that the Community Broadband Act of 2005 be enacted to reinforce the right of all communities to offer their residents affordable high-speed Internet access. Communities that lack affordable high-speed Internet access will lose jobs as businesses that require it locate elsewhere. Moreover, their residents will continue to face increasingly serious disadvantages in educational and healthcare services.
Today, only 30 percent of American households subscribe to broadband Internet services. The problem is particularly acute in rural and urban areas that either lack access entirely, or have only a single high-cost service to choose from—which is no choice at all. Dominant telephone and cable companies have all too frequently skipped over Main Street to deliver higher returns to Wall Street. Yet without broadband Internet access, Americans in rural and underserved urban areas will be stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide.
Recent studies show that America ranks 16th worldwide in the percentage of citizens with broadband connections, placing our country at a critical competitive disadvantage. Municipal wireless and broadband networks are not only vital in helping realize universal broadband access that will speed adoption rates, they offer a critical competitive alternative in areas served by a single broadband provider charging rates too costly for average consumers. Indeed, in many areas, municipal broadband offers the only hope for competition that will lower prices and improve service—critical steps to achieving the Administration’s goal of universal broadband access by 2007.
We can no longer allow the on-ramp to the Information Superhighway to be blocked for so many Americans. Congress needs to take this common sense step to protect the rights of communities to offer their residents the benefits of high-speed Internet access. If they don’t, monopoly providers will continue to leave millions of Americans behind and the digital divide will only grow wider. Your legislation will ensure that the door to competitive, affordable broadband Internet access remains open to all communities.
We look forward to working with you toward enactment of this important legislation.
Senior Policy Analyst
For more information contact: Matt Hartwig, 202-462-6262