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Americans support letting cities build their own broadband networks, Pew finds

Americans support letting cities build their own broadband networks, Pew finds

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Most Americans want to let local governments build out internet service if the internet providers in their area aren’t any good, according to the Pew Research Center.

In a phone survey of over 4,000 people last month, Pew found that 70 percent of respondents agreed that local governments should have the power to start their own high-speed networks if current offerings are “too expensive or not good enough.”

The results show an overwhelming support for municipal broadband — networks that are at least somewhat run by local governments — at a time when encouraging broadband buildout is a top federal priority.

Cities want municipal broadband; States don’t

But despite the support, in much of the US, building out municipal networks just isn’t possible. More than 20 states have passed laws banning local governments from starting their own broadband service, largely at the behest of internet providers that want to avoid competition at all cost.

These city-run networks can be hugely advantageous. The mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, credits his city’s municipal broadband network, which provides multi-gigabit speeds, with revitalizing the area.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear that states will do away with these laws anytime soon. At the behest of several cities, the Federal Communications Commission tried to use its power in 2015 to let municipalities ignore laws banning local broadband and build networks anyway, but states fought back and eventually won.

Pew’s finding underscores that support for municipal broadband has been a somewhat bipartisan issue. Though it didn’t pass, legislation to allow local networks was actually introduced to the House a decade ago with both a Republican and Democratic sponsor. Pew says its survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percent.

Support is high for stricter privacy rules

Though Pew’s survey found some positive results for municipal broadband, it found less support for broadband subsidies for low-income homes. Under half of all Americans, 44 percent, said they supported subsidies, while nearly everyone else surveyed said they felt internet service “is affordable enough” that most households should be able to pay for it. (At the same time, nearly half of all people surveyed said they didn’t know what speed of internet they received.)

The results speak to hot-button issues that are currently being reassessed by the FCC. The commission’s big focus right now is on increasing broadband access, particularly in rural areas, and one of the ways it’s trying to do that is through a subsidy program known as Lifeline. The commission caused some controversy after it slowed expansion of the program, and it appears to be working toward a revamped proposal soon.

A recent Huffington Post / YouGov poll also spoke to the FCC’s recently overturned privacy rules. It found that nearly three-quarters of respondents to an online poll wanted President Trump to veto the legislation that killed the FCC’s protections. Even more respondents, 83 percent, said they felt internet providers should have to ask permission before first sharing web browsing history with other companies.