next century citiesBlair Levin had harsh words for the FCC and Congress yesterday in an address about the role of cities in broadband deployment in an address about “The Secret to Smart Policies About Smart Cities” at a Next Century Cities broadband event in Pittsburgh

“The federal government is dysfunctional and disrespected but local governments are responsive, proactive, effective and respected in building communities,” said Levin, who headed up the team that created the 2010 National Broadband Plan and is now a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Project at the Brookings Institute.

He pointed to research showing that 70% of Americans trust their local government, while less than 20% trust the federal government.

Role of Cities in Broadband
Beginning with a Kansas City/ Google deal several years ago, some cities have had considerable success in gaining high-speed broadband connectivity, but Levin sees cities’ autonomy in negotiating those deals under threat from the federal government – specifically from the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) created by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

The BDAC has “proposed to require cities to lower various costs, including permitting and rights of way access,” Levin said in an email to Telecompetitor. “That has the impact of lowering the revenues to the cities and lowering the costs to carriers, whether or not carriers actually build out.  That is a wealth transfer.”

In his address, Levin argued that participation in the BDAC was skewed toward network operators and that cities were underrepresented.  Conflicts came to a head when San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo resigned from the committee, arguing that it was biased against municipalities.

San Jose is notable in that the city was able to negotiate deals with carriers that included infrastructure to support 5G wireless services and which, according to Levin and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, were beneficial to both sides. Rosenworcel suggested using the San Jose contract as a model agreement.

role of cities in broadband
Blair Levin

Setting Out to Find What You Already Believe
Levin argued that the BDAC is an example of a trend he sees too often in the federal government. “They went out to find what they already believed,” he said.

Concerns about the BDAC’s direction drove the mayors of 36 cities to write a letter to the FCC in March, arguing for local autonomy in negotiating deals with service providers.

The BDAC’s goal was a worthy one, Levin said – to accelerate and broaden the deployment of next-generation broadband networks and reduce the digital divide. But the committee was too narrowly focused, he said. From the get-go, the committee’s focus was on accelerating broadband deployment by reducing and/or removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.

“The alleged size of the challenge and the size of the solution are not consistent,” Levin argued.

Other ideas the BDAC might have considered include exploring China’s network sharing policies, reforming business data service obligations to lower the cost of 5G backhaul, and having the federal government incent cities with financial incentives to build out dark fiber (a strategy that worked in Lincoln, Nebraska, according to Levin.)

“I have no idea if any of these ideas should be adopted — I see problems with each of them,” Levin said. He added, though, that “they are solutions that have the merit of being as big as the problem the FCC officials describe” and would have been worth exploring.

A webcast of Levin’s address is available at this link. Levin quotes in our post include a mixture of his remarks as prepared for delivery, which he shared with us, and what he actually said, which in some cases, differed slightly from what he prepared, but retained the original facts and sentiments.

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2 thoughts on “Levin: Cities Know How to Get Broadband Done, Not a Dysfunctional Federal Government

  1. Agreed! I would also add that state governments are equally dysfunctional in executing anything related to creating broadband enterprises, and need to stay out of the way of local communities with the right ideas, incentive and talent to make broadband happen in a way that most benefits the communities.

  2. Well, in 20+ states, cities and towns are legally prevented from building publicly owned broadband infrastructure thus over-riding the will of many cities and towns to take matters into their own hands. Most of these 20+ states are "equally dysfunctional" on this subject because they passed anti-competitive and anti-democratic legislation supplied by ALEC to state legislators who introduced and voted for these "cookie-cutter" bills that are contrary to best interests of their constituents. These states should not be legally protecting the markets and profits of the cable and telco oligopoly. Cities and towns must have the unfettered right to make their own decisions when it comes to determining the broadband interests of their residents.

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