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Next Century Cities Broadband Coalition Presses for Municipal Self Determination

Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to some of the fastest Internet speeds in the United States.

Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to some of the fastest Internet speeds in the United States. Sean Pavone /

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Plenty of cities want to develop their own local high-speed networks, but state laws often hamper those efforts.

After launching its joint initiative with 32 U.S. cities last month in Santa Monica, California, the Next Century Cities coalition, which aims to improve local high-speed Internet connectivity through next-generation broadband, co-hosted a “field hearing” in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Tuesday with the Southeast Tennessee Development District.

Tennessee’s fourth-largest city in many ways is ground zero for the larger national debate over the future of local high-speed Internet. Chattanooga has successfully invested in broadband infrastructure that delivers 1-gigabit-per-second connectivity to businesses, libraries, schools and residences across the Chattanooga area and has been recognized as a national leader in local broadband development.

But Tennessee is one of roughly 20 states that impose restrictions on the municipal-driven development of local broadband networks. Chattanooga along with Wilson, North Carolina—which has its own nationally recognized municipal broadband network—petitioned the Federal Communication Commission this summer to block state prohibitions on such local networks.

As Gigaom reported earlier this month, if state laws restricting municipal networks were overturned at the federal level, there’s definite interest from other communities to move forward on local broadband development:

In 2008, 35 North Carolina communities were anxious to pursue public networks, but that state’s law obliterated interest. If Wilson’s petition succeeds, the number of North Carolina cities wanting to move forward should be greater, and Tennessee has a list of communities already asking Chattanooga to expand services to these un-served areas.

The Next Century Cities event in Chattanooga on Tuesday aimed to allow local leaders and other stakeholders to discuss the importance of local high-speed broadband networks.

“Our field hearing allowed those voices—from mayors to community stakeholders to renowned business leaders—to be heard today in support of broadband self-determination,” Deb Socia, Next Century Cities executive director, said in a statement.

Speakers and panelists at the “Envisioning the Gigabit Future” event included Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke; Tennessee state Senator Janice Bowling; Bradley County, Tennessee Mayor Gary Davis; Annenberg Innovation Lab Director Jonathan Taplin; and  Seattle Office of Cable Director Tony Perez, who is also the president of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, according to a media advisory.

"As home to the fastest, cheapest, and most pervasive internet in the Western Hemisphere, Chattanooga is the perfect city to envision the Gigabit Future,” Berke said in a statement. “We look forward to collaborating with others cities and organizations to ensure more citizens have access to next-generation broadband and opportunity in the innovation economy."

(Image by Sean Pavone /