Obama Wants to Help Create Comcast’s Competitors

In major speech, he calls on FCC to help local Internet providers offer alternative to big corporations.

If Comcast really is militantly left-wing, why on earth is President Obama making life so hard for the company?

He already came out in favor of a net neutrality plan Comcast opposes. Now he’s explicitly calling for the creation of more broadband Internet service providers — essentially, a bunch of competitors for the Philadelphia-based company.

Gizmodo calls it “Obama’s Plan to Loosen Comcast’s Stranglehold on Your Internet”, and reports:

The first step, as outlined in a new White House report, is to get rid of state laws that favour the big broadband players, and stifle new competition:

“19 states currently have barriers in place limiting community broadband and protecting incumbent providers from competition. President Obama believes that there should be a level playing field for community-based solutions and is announcing today a series of steps that the Administration will be taking to foster consumer and community choice.”

The first step will be the Administration filing a letter with the FCC asking it to address these laws — something the FCC is already looking at doing. Furthermore, though, the report calls on the federal government to remove “all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and [the President] is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council of over a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment and promoting adoptions for our citizens.”

The New York Daily News:

He said he would use executive actions to help towns and cities that would like to set up their own networks.

“This isn’t just about making it easier to stream Netflix,” the President said in a speech posted online by C-SPAN. “This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a local economy.”

Obama said 98% of Americans have access to basic broadband, which he said is good, but will not be fast enough when looking at Internet speeds needed for online apps and services coming in the future.

“We gotta keep pace, we gotta be up to speed,” Obama said, citing that 45 million Americans are not able to purchase what he called “next-generation broadband,” consisting of speeds that are six to seven times faster than basic speeds.


“I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. … And if there are state laws in place that prohibit or restrict these community-based efforts, all of us, including the FCC, which is responsible for regulating this area, should do everything we can to push back on those old laws,” Obama said today in Cedar Falls.

Wait. Can the president circumvent state laws? The New York Times says yes:

This new push by the president is perfectly lawful. In a ruling issued last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia suggested the commission could strike down state laws that serve as a “barrier to infrastructure investment.” A municipal utility in Chattanooga, Tenn. and the City of Wilson, N.C. petitioned the F.C.C. in August requesting that the commission preempt their state laws. 

NYT adds:

 Whether Mr. Obama’s plan will actually improve life for Internet users (pretty much everyone) is another matter. In reality, even if the F.C.C. struck down all state laws restricting municipal broadband only some cities and municipal utilities would get into the broadband business. For one thing, many cities are strapped for cash and will not want to spend the money to build a broadband network.

But the mere prospect of increased competition could prompt some cable and phone companies to upgrade their networks for higher speeds. Last year, for example, AT&T announced it was considering providing faster service in 21 metropolitan areas after Google announced plans to expand its high-speed Fiber service to nine metro areas.

 It’s probably unfair to single out Comcast as opposing competition from municipal-owned Internet providers. Instead, it’s been part of a coalition of big-time providers who have lobbied state governments for protection. The Center for Public Integrity reports:

For more than a decade, AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable Inc., and CenturyLink Inc. have spent millions of dollars to lobby state legislatures, influence state elections and buy research to try to stop the spread of public Internet services that often offer faster speeds at cheaper rates.

The companies have succeeded in getting laws passed in 20 states that ban or restrict municipalities from offering Internet to residents.

Now the fight has gone national. The Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., is considering requests from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, to pre-empt state laws that block municipalities from building or expanding broadband networks, hindering economic growth, the cities argue.

If the FCC rules in favor of the cities, and the ruling survives any legal challenges, municipalities nationwide will be free to offer high-speed Internet to residents when they aren’t satisfied with the service provided by private telecommunications companies.

Anyway, don’t expect President Obama to do Seder at David Cohen’s house this year.

Other Comcastic headlines:

 COMCAST FOUNDATION AWARDS MORE THAN $600,000 IN 2014 TO 29 NONPROFITS IN GREATER PHILADELPHIA & NEW JERSEY: The Comcast Foundation announced today that it has awarded $642,100 in grants to 29 nonprofit organizations in Comcast’s Freedom Region in 2014. The grants support programs aimed at the Comcast Foundation’s areas of focus – expanding digital literacy, promoting community service, and building tomorrow’s leaders. Comcast’s Freedom Region serves Greater Philadelphia, New Jersey and northern Delaware. Among this year’s recipients are numerous Big Brothers Big Sisters and Boys & Girls clubs, The Center for Literacy, Girls Incorporated, Need in Deed, People’s Emergency Center, Philadelphia READS, Project HOME, and the Urban League of Philadelphia. (From a company press release.)