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MARCH/APRIL 2015 | www.broadbandcommunities.com | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | 57 BROADBAND POLICY Introducing Next Century Cities A new coalition of cities is raising the bar for fast Internet service across the U.S. By Deb Socia / Next Century Cities O n January 14, in Cedar Falls, Iowa – where the local utility has developed a top-notch gigabit network – President Obama laid out his agenda to help communities gain access to fast, afordable, reliable broadband Internet. Te speech also acknowledged our organization, Next Century Cities, and its growing coalition of communities dedicated to the importance of gigabit Internet. Next Century Cities brings together 70 communities across the country, from major metropolises to small, rural towns, to assist communities on the path to fast, afordable, reliable broadband Internet. Members represent a diverse array of approaches, with some communities nurturing successful projects while others are still in initial planning. Yet all members share a recognition of the Internet's importance to thriving communities and a commitment to collaboration. Together, we hope to realize the full potential of next-generation Internet for communities across the country. In his remarks, the president praised Cedar Falls as Iowa's frst gigabit city, with Internet connection speeds among the best in the world. Yet for too many Americans, these speeds remain out of reach – some 45 million Americans cannot purchase next-generation broadband service. Helping communities realize the promise of gigabit Internet is the driving mission of Next Century Cities. Tis is an opportunity that communities cannot aford to miss. As the president observed, "Tis is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy." To better equip communities to seize this opportunity, the president unveiled a host of policy proposals with the potential to empower communities and support better broadband infrastructure. Tese proposals could engage federal and local policymakers alike, helping communities address their needs. For instance, a new initiative called Broadband USA will ofer support through technical assistance, regional workshops and resources to equip policymakers to develop successful networks. Similarly, new grant and loan opportunities through the Department of Agriculture's Community Connect program will be designed to encourage the development and deployment of broadband networks in underserved, rural areas. Several additional proposals ofer the possibility of forums for community leaders to contribute to national broadband policy. Most prominently, President Obama announced a Community Broadband Summit, to be held in June 2015, that will convene mayors and county leaders committed to broadband solutions and economic revitalization. Meanwhile, the new Broadband Opportunity Council will bring together representatives from more than a dozen federal agencies to identify and remove unnecessary regulatory barriers. EMPOWERING BROADBAND DEVELOPMENT Te president's remarks come at a time when, in 19 states, legislation inhibits the development of next-generation broadband networks. While discussing these laws, President Obama frmly stated that "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." In the short time since the president's speech, promising developments have suggested that a more vibrant, competitive market for broadband Internet will emerge. First, the Federal Communications Commission announced that it was considering a ruling in response to petitions from two Next Century Cities partner communities, Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., to preempt laws in their respective states that restrict the buildout of successful gigabit networks to neighboring communities. Across the nation, communities are recognizing the critical importance of local choice to successful broadband projects. A letter to the FCC in support of the two petitioners garnered more than 40 signatures from elected representatives of 38 Next Century Cities members. Te stakes of broadband access are high for many communities, and next-generation networks represent a key link to an increasingly globalized economy. One study found that for every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure, some 250,000 jobs are created, and they can contribute up to 1.4 percent of growth in employment. Meanwhile, approximately one-third of small businesses express a need for speeds higher than what is currently available in much of the country. It is clear that the president's proposals, and the FCC's actions, sit at the junction of economic need and community potential. We hope to ensure a prosperous 21st century for all American communities, helped by policies that protect local choice and empower broadband development. v Deb Socia is the executive director of Next Century Cities, which invites additional cities to join in its eforts. Find out more at www.nextcenturycities.org, and contact Deb at firstname.lastname@example.org.