Broadband Broadens the Digital Divide

In 2011, the Mayor Gray announced the District of Columbia (DC) would be the first municipality to build a 10Gbps municipal broadband facility the United States. 

However, after spending $17 million, DC abandoned these much-vaunted plans.  

Municipal Broadband would have created real competition in telecommunications, since it would have provided high speed Internet access for free. It would have lowered prices, created competition and boosted economic development. 

Instead of using public policy and investment to close the digital divide and creating alternative paths to the middle class, we now have substandard broadband at exorbitant rates.  

In too many cases in DC, corporate interests, like those of Walmart and Exelon, trump those of local residents and local small businesses. 

Currently, many, if not most, DC families with children, who need access to broadband can’t afford it. Our children have to stay at school to remain connected, go to libraries, or study with friends.  

In addition we have several huge national/international firms dominating the field, offering services in ways that defeat competition. They are “bundling” these services at the highest possible rates, with the lowest possible speeds and offering higher speeds only to those willing to pay the very highest rates. 

Across the country, not just in DC, public service commissions wash their hands of any responsibility, claiming they have no authority over broadband since the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates it. 

Locally there is no legislative outrage at our Executive branch squandering $17 million in tax dollars in a period of tight budgets and underfunded services. Worse, we’ve allowed corporate venality to leave behind another generation of students, reaching out for a lifeline to help bring their minds, curiosity and creative energies to maturity.  

We call upon the current Mayor and Council Members to seek ways to turn the promise of municipal broadband into a reality, to narrow rather than widen the digital divide. 

Every family with children in DC should have free access to municipal broadband. 

By Rob Robinson, Chair: DC Consumer Utility Board