Obama says Internet needs to be affordable and accessible


President Barack Obama spoke in Cedar Falls on Jan. 14.

The Internet needs to remain affordable, quick and accessible, President Obama said Jan. 14 during his speech on broadband access in Cedar Falls, Iowa. 

“In the 21st Century, so much of the prosperity that we’re striving for depends on our digital economy. It depends on our ability to connect online in cyberspace,” Obama said.

Obama said broadband Internet access and quality broadband service is a necessity for all Americans in order to not only improve their lives, but to improve national and local economies.  

“Today, high speed broadband isn’t a luxury. It’s a priority,” Obama said. “This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in the global economy. It’s about giving the entrepreneur and small businessperson on Main Street a chance to compete with the folks out in Silicon Valley or across the globe.”

The speech is part of a series of speeches given in communities across the country leading up to the State of the Union speech Jan. 20.  Obama chose to deliver his speech at Cedar Falls Utilities for the city’s exemplary broadband access. 

For the last 20 years, Cedar Falls Utilities has provided the Cedar Falls community with broadband Internet access.

Cedar Falls has also continued to improve their municipal-provided Internet access, now making them a gigabit city that has Internet speeds around 100 times faster than broadband and on par with cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo and Paris, Obama said. 

Obama said municipal-sponsored internet access is something federal agencies like the Federal Communications Commission will encourage in the next two years. This will keep the Internet affordable, quick and accessible. 

“Today, I’m making my administration’s position clear on community broadband. I’m on the side of competition. I’m on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has a right to make it’s own choice and provide its own broadband if they want to,” Obama said.

He also said he wants to see agencies push back on state laws that may prohibit competition. 

“What happens when there’s no competition?” Obama said. “You’re stuck on hold, you watch the loading icon spin. Meanwhile, you’re wondering why your rates keep getting jacked up when the service doesn’t seem to improve.”

U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, traveled with the President and was pleased with the goals Obama laid out.

“The future of economic development in Iowa and across the country depends, in large part, on access to the Internet and specifically broadband,” Loebsack said. “I have met with many small businesses, farmers and rural telecommunication companies who have stressed the importance of expanding high speed Internet to rural areas.”

Loebsack also added that the plan would expand access to quality education, saying broadband can offer “cutting-edge 21st Century education, regardless of geography.”

“I was pleased to join President Obama today as he laid out his plan to make sure Iowans and others in rural areas are not left behind,” Loebsack said. “Expanding broadband for all Iowans is critical so that this economic development tool is available for everyone, regardless of where they live.”

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said everyone has similar goals when it comes to the internet.

“We all share similar goals with respect to the Internet. We all want it to grow and prosper. We all want faster and cheaper Internet access. We all want more deployment of broadband technologies, particularly to rural areas that remain without access or have limited access. We all want more innovations and new avenues by which to access information. And we all want consumers to have more choice and options,” Grassley said. 

Grassley also said improvement will come because of innovation and competition within the private sector, not because of government regulation.

Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad announced a similar proposal at the statewide level during his Condition of the State address Jan. 13.

“The Connect Every Acre Plan” would offer high-speed broadband to all of Iowa.

“The fabric of our state is woven together by the gravel roads and the interstate system, but in this day and age, it also must be connected through access to broadband as well,” Branstad said Jan. 13. “This legislative session, let’s come together and pass legislation allowing rural Iowa to experience continued growth and connection to the rest of Iowa and the rest of the world.”

Obama’s visit was not without pushback. Iowa Republican Party chair Jeff Kaufmann agreed with the idea of more access to broadband, but expressed disappointment with how Obama achieves his goals.

“We’re happy that the President recognizes, like Governor Branstad, how important Internet connectivity can be to economic development,” Kaufmann said. “We only wish he had Governor Branstad’s fiscal discipline, budgetary acumen, foresight, and bipartisan nature too.”

While Gov. Branstad wants to work on legislation pertaining to broadband, Obama’s plan does not call for legislation.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said on Jan. 14 that Obama wants communities served by companies with a monopoly on Internet to work together with other companies to introduce competition. Obama also will call on state governments to eliminate laws that prohibit competition between providers.