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Groups unveil new community internet resources

Sept. 22, 2005

Groups unveil new Community Internet resources
HearUsNow.org highlights local success stories; Free Press launches interactive map of ‘Community Internet Across America.’

WASHINGTON — Consumers Union and Free Press today unveiled extensive new online resources designed to educate the public and foster development of “Community Internet” projects popping up across the country.
In recent years, dozens of local communities have started providing high-speed broadband service to their citizens through a variety of wired and wireless technologies. Hundreds more cities and towns have municipal broadband systems on the drawing board. Despite aggressive lobbying efforts by big telephone and cable companies to derail these projects, Community Internet is thriving.
Efforts to restore communications in the wake of Hurricane Katrina have brought greater attention to these systems from public officials. Wireless networks were the only means available for communications among New Orleans city officials after their satellite phones failed. In addition, wireless networks were quickly established at shelters after the storm and are being used to help evacuees locate and communicate with loved ones at distant locations.
Consumers Union’s “Connected” project – available at www.HearUsNow/connected – showcases several of the country’s most successful community Internet projects. Covering a range of projects from free, wireless Internet access set up by local community groups in some Chicago neighborhoods to a 14-town broadband network in Utah, “Connected” discusses the hurdles that were overcome to build these systems and seeks to provide other communities with examples of ways to build similar networks.
“All across the country, communities are realizing the economic, educational and cultural benefits of lower-cost Internet access,” said Morgan Jindrich, director of HearUsNow.org. “Community Internet networks offer high-speed access where none had existed and help lower the cost of logging on for subscribers. Such networks will change the way consumers can access information. Communities’ rights to build these networks must be protected.”
Free Press today unveiled an interactive map that links to short profiles of more than 270 Community Internet projects across the country. The map is the most comprehensive list of Community Internet and municipal broadband projects available. It shows projects operated by local governments, public-private partnerships, schools, non-profits and community groups. It includes wireless mesh networks, fiber to the home systems, and those using broadband over power lines.
See the map at www.freepress.net/communityinternet.
“Community Internet is the future of all communications,” said Ben Scott, policy director of Free Press. “In the near future, all media – TV, telephone and the Web – will be delivered to our homes via a broadband connection. These innovative projects are closing the digital divide and bringing much-needed competition to the broadband market.”
Big telecom and cable companies have responded by furiously working to slam the door on Community Internet. The telephone and cable giants are trying to use their lobbying clout in state capitals to pre-empt localities from offering the service, keep prices high, and preclude competition. Fourteen states now have laws on the books restricting municipal broadband. Five states approved anti-municipal broadband measures in 2005. But in nine other states, attempts to restrict Community Internet were either defeated or delayed indefinitely.
The fight over Community Internet is now moving to Capitol Hill. Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) recently introduced S. 1294, the Community Broadband Act of 2005, which would “preserve and protect the ability of local governments to provide broadband capability and services.”
Consumers Union and Free Press are mobilizing support of the bill, urging their members to contact their senators and ask them to co-sponsor the legislation. “The Community Broadband Act would ensure that local communities everywhere can decide for themselves how to best serve the technology needs of their own citizens,” Scott said.
For more information, please visit www.HearUsNow.org/connected or www.freepress.net/communityinternet.
Matt Hartwig, Consumers Union, (202) 462-6262
Craig Aaron, Free Press, (202) 265-1490, x25