Remark at the Ceder Falls Utilities in Iowa by President Obama
Today, I’m in Cedar Falls to talk about how we can give more communities access to faster, cheaper broadband so they can succeed in the digital economy. And I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know — today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. This isn’t just about making it easier to stream Netflix or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed –although that’s fun, and it is frustrating if you’re waiting for a long time before the thing finally comes up. This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy. It’s about giving the entrepreneur, the small businessperson on Main Street a chance to compete with the folks out in Silicon Valley, or across the globe. It’s about helping a student access the online courses and employment opportunities that can help her pursue her dreams.
And that’s why, through the Recovery Act, when I first came into office and we were trying to make sure that we prevented a Great Depression but also start building some foundations for long-term growth, we built or improved more than 113,000 miles of network infrastructure throughout the country — that’s enough to circle the globe more than four times. And we offered tax credits to help spur businesses to expand their networks. We’ve hooked up tens of thousands of schools and libraries and medical facilities and community organizations. And then we launched something we call ConnectED, which trains teachers, and spurs private-sector innovation, and is connecting 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet.
But — and this is why I’m here — we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Right now, 98 percent of Americans have access to the most basic levels of broadband. That’s a good thing. But that number doesn’t look quite as good when you look at the speeds we’re going to need for all the apps and the videos, and all the data and new software that is constantly coming onto market. We’ve got to keep pace. We’ve got to be up to speed.
Right now, about 45 million Americans cannot purchase next-generation broadband. And that next generation of broadband creates connections that are six or seven times faster than today’s basic speeds. And by the way, only about half of rural Americans can log on at that super-fast rate.
And if folks do have good, fast Internet, chances are they only got one provider to pick from. Today, tens of millions of Americans have only one choice for that next-generation broadband, so they’re pretty much at the whim of whatever Internet provider is around. And what happens when there’s no competition? You’re stuck on hold. You’re watching the loading icon spin. You’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And meanwhile, you’re wondering why your rates keep on getting jacked up when the service doesn’t seem to improve.
Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network. Really smart thing you guys did. It was a really smart thing you guys did. And you’ve managed it right here at Cedar Falls Utilities. And then a few years ago, you realized that customers were demanding more and more speed. All the movies, all the increased data, Instagram — all this stuff suddenly is just being loaded up, and basically, you guys were like the captain in Jaws, where he said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” (Laughter.)
So having already made the smart investment 20 years ago, about five years ago you said, we’ve got to upgrade to a fiber network throughout the city, and eventually, with the help of some federal funding, the surrounding rural areas as well.
So today, Cedar Falls is Iowa’s first Gigabit City. Now, that sounds like something out of a Star Wars movie, Gigabit City. Here’s what it means: Your network is as fast as some of the best networks in the world. There’s Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, Cedar Falls. (Laughter.) Right? That’s the company you’re keeping.
You are almost a hundred times faster than the national average — a hundred times faster. And you can log on for about the same price as some folks pay for a fully loaded cable bundle. So today, you’ve got small businesses like Marc’s that are serving clients worldwide. Google named you the best city in Iowa for e-commerce. And what you’re showing is that here in America, you don’t have to be the biggest community to do really big things, you just have to have some vision, and you have to work together.
And we’re seeing that same kind of innovation and that same kind of energy and foresight in communities across the country. In Lafayette, Louisiana, companies are bringing jobs to the city in part because of their fast, next-generation broadband network. In November, the people of Yuma County, Colorado, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a community broadband network. That’s in the same election where 85 percent of folks just voted for a Republican Senate candidate. So this is not a partisan issue. It’s not a red issue or a blue issue. Folks just want to know that they’re at the cutting edge of this new economy. Folks around the nation want these broadband networks. They’re good for business. They’re good for communities. They’re good for schools. And they’re good for the marketplace because they promote efficiency and competition.
Here in Cedar Falls, if you don’t want the highest-speed package, you can still choose between the Cedar Falls Utilities or options like Mediacom or CenturyLink. It’s not like you don’t have choices. You can pick the company that offers the best service at the lowest cost for your family’s needs. That’s how free markets and capitalism are supposed to work.
But here’s the catch. In too many place across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors. Today in 19 states, we’ve got laws on the books that stamp out competition and make it really difficult for communities to provide their own broadband the way you guys are. In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one that you’ve got here in Cedar Falls. So today, I’m saying we’re going to change that. Enough is enough. We’re going to change that so every community can do the smart things you guys are doing.
So not long ago, I made my position clear on what’s called net neutrality. I believe we’ve got to maintain a free and open Internet. Today, I’m making my administration’s position clear on community broadband. I’m saying I’m on the side of competition. And I’m on the side of small business owners like Marc. I’m on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.
And if there are state laws in place that prohibit or restrict these community-based efforts, 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. I believe that’s what stands out about America — this belief that more competition means better products and cheaper prices. We do that with just about every other product. We ought to be doing it with broadband. It’s just common sense.
And that’s why leaders from 50 cities and towns across the country -— it’s a coalition called Next Century Cities — have pledged to bring next-generation broadband to their cities and towns. And that’s why I’m announcing a series of additional actions to support their efforts and encourage more communities to follow your lead, Cedar Falls. I’m directing federal agencies to get rid of unnecessary regulations that slow the expansion of broadband or limit competition. They’re going to report back to me in six months. The Department of Commerce — Penny Pritzker, who is here — they’re going to work to offer support and tactical assistance to communities that want to follow your lead and set up their own networks. USDA — the Department of Agriculture — is announcing new loan opportunities for rural providers. And this summer, I’ll host mayors from around the nation at a Community Broadband Summit to chart the next steps that we need to take.
So that’s what we’re going to be doing. We’re going to clear away red tape. We’re going to foster competition. We’re going to help communities connect, and help communities succeed in our digital economy.
And the good news is we know it works because of you. (Laughter.) You guys were like the guinea pigs on this thing. You took a chance and you made something happen. And you’re supporting the jobs of the future through faster, cheaper Internet. We want everybody to do that.
I want to leave you with a story of another community that has done this, as well. Chattanooga, Tennessee — it’s an old railroad town — was once called the dirtiest city in the nation. During the recession, they were hit harder than most places. But that did not stop them from building America’s first citywide, high-speed, fiber network -— right down the middle of downtown. It’s as fast as what you guys got here in Cedar Falls.
Today, a new generation of engineers and entrepreneurs have moved down to Chattanooga. Big businesses have set up shop. Volkswagen built a billion-dollar manufacturing plant. It’s unleashing a tornado of innovation — the city is even testing out futuristic technologies like 3-D holograms. And here’s what their former mayor said, It’s like having — “It’s like being the first city to have fire. We don’t know all of the things we can do with it yet.”
Yet. But think about that. And you’re first in something, when you figure something out, you may not know all the applications right away, but that’s the spirit of America — imagining what might come next. We may not always know what’s right around the corner, but we know we’ll figure it out as long as we’re bold and we go ahead and work together.
We’ve been through some very hard times. We didn’t always know those hard times were coming, but we pulled together, we worked together, we relied on each other, we believed in each other, and we figured it out.
We’re blessed with the greatest natural resource in the world — not corn — (laughter) — but the pluck and the ingenuity and the willingness to take risks of the American people. And I’m absolutely confident that if we just give Americans the tools they need, if we just help lay the foundation and allow them to access the amazing opportunities and technologies at this moment in world history, we’re not just going to continue recovering from a bad recession, we’re going to ignite the next generation of American innovation. And it’s going to start right here in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless America.