SoCal Cities Buck FCC to Create Regional Internet Network

Sixteen cities in Southern California’s South Bay have teamed up to provide cheaper Internet service to their 1.1 million residents. Their effort goes against a common belief that regional collaborations are unlikely to succeed because cities are busy, strapped for resources and competitive. It also irks the FCC, which believes that private companies are doing a great job of delivering Internet at low prices to everyone in America. The FCC has been actively discouraging states from building local Internet networks.

According to Wired, the FCC is “blocking states from regulating any aspect of broadband service, supporting states that have raised barriers to municipal networks, deregulating pricing for lines running between cities, and removing local control over rights-of-way that could be used to bring cheaper access into town.”

The South Bay is “a huge, wildly diverse region” and “like many regions in the U.S., it needs to attract new businesses and residents, get its people into more modern jobs, and lower residents’ commute times.” But its poor Internet service is a problem: about one-third of city buildings in the region’s 16 cities rely on DSL access, and only two have fiber-optic connections between buildings.

“They’re paying too much, and they’re getting very little,” said Jory Wolf, who launched affordable Internet in his former job as City of Santa Monica chief information officer and is “launching additional regional plans in California.”

The South Bay Cities Council of Governments put out the call for bids “for a regional fiber-optic loop that would connect all the city halls in the region to one another as well as to two major Internet points of presence (POPs).” By aggregating their traffic, the SBCCOG would have “bargaining power and potentially wholesale prices through those redundant POPs,” and all 16 city councils are supportive, with the final goal of attracting new businesses to their cities.

Wolf reported that the RFP has “attracted a slew of strong bidders, and that it’s likely the region will end up with several providers operating the regional fiber loop.” But he also noted that the FCC is likely to put an end to the group’s activities.

Wired notes that, “step by step, the FCC is working to undermine cities’ abilities to create municipal fiber networks of any size, while doing everything it can to keep the status quo in place,” adding that the ultimate goal of reversing net neutrality “was to broadly block local government from having anything to do with Internet access.”

The FCC plans to end “local authority over private communications equipment being stuck to public property.” Former FCC chief of staff Blair Levin dubbed this, a “power grab in which the FCC majority substitutes their judgment of what is best for local communities for the judgment of duly elected local officials.”