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Muni broadband providers clash over Title II net neutrality reforms

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 13, 2015
Nothing comes easy in the net neutrality battle. Take how different municipal broadband providers disagree over FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal to reclassify broadband providers as public utilities under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

Supporters of Title II reclassification generally believe it will ensure net neutrality and openness that will work to stimulate more Internet innovation as well as new applications that stimulate broadband deployment. Wheeler's plan would prevent throttling and blocking of lawful content and services for both wired and mobile broadband providers. It would also allow content providers like Netflix to have the ability to see how Internet providers are using technology to handle network congestion.

Various municipal broadband providers filed petitions to the FCC in favor of Title II reclassification prior to the unveiling of Wheeler's plan on Feb. 4. Their numbers include a nonprofit, intergovernmental consortium called UC2B that serves the University of Illinois and the entire Champaign-Urbana area with fast fiber-optic cable connections.

In an interview, UC2B board member Charlie Smyth called the Title II concerns raised by the 43 towns a "smokescreen" and "phony." Smyth is also an Urbana City Council member and mayor pro tem.

"I'm very surprised by the their view," Smyth added, referring to the municipal broadband Title II opponents. "It doesn't make sense to me and runs contrary" to the purpose of municipal broadband to serve the entire community. In the UC2B example, fiber connections have already been made in low-income areas and to 400 institutions and will soon be rolled out to other households in the area.

UC2B was created along general net neutrality principles, Smyth said. "We firmly believe everyone should have the right to equal Internet speeds regardless of income and other factors, and we're committed to the open access concept. By default, we support Title II and net neutrality in general where whole communities are able to determine their own destiny. We see a future built around 1 Gbps access."

Smyth said that UC2B has attracted AT&T and Comcast to start offering more competitive Internet packages and better rates in the Champaign-Urbana area. "No one should be at the behest of a small, powerful set of incumbent providers who can dictate what Internet you are going to get. We really believe in allowing for competition or requiring open access for incumbents."

To Smyth and UC2B, Internet access is a utility, just as much as water, sewer or electrical service. "We are replacing copper lines with fiber to the home. That Internet service is completely analogous to sewer and water and is the 21st century equivalent to electricity," he said.

 

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