From a lobbying perspective, municipal broadband providers have never had a seat at the table. In any given state, a municipal broadband provider might get its voice heard through organizations like the League of Cities and Counties – or whatever that is called in a given state. But municipal broadband ISPs have never had a national voice to push back against the hard lobbying that has been leveled against them for the last few decades. As an example, USTelecom recently came out with its lobbying position on broadband grants and is advocating that the federal grant rules be changed so that no funding goes to municipalities, non-profits, or electric cooperatives.
This changed with the formation of the American Association of Public Broadband (AAPB). This new group was announced at the Broadband Communities Summit and raised over $100,000 within a few days. The group was formed to make sure that municipal broadband has a voice in Washington D.C.
Having an industry advocacy group is an effective way for an industry group to get its message heard. I point to WISPA as an example of an advocacy group that has benefitted its members. Until that group started to loudly lobby, wireless ISPs had no visibility in D.C. and their issues were never considered. Now, many FCC orders include footnotes that recognize comments made by WISPA. WISPA has made sure that the position of wireless ISPs is known for any topic that affects wireless ISPs.
Municipal ISPs are probably the largest ISP community that doesn’t have a seat at the table in national debates. The FCC, NTIA, and Congress regularly hear about the positions of small telcos, large ISPs, wireless ISPs, fiber overbuilders, and cable companies. The Communications Workers of America regularly lobbies on behalf of technicians. NATE regularly lobbies on behalf of contractors.
As mentioned in the opening paragraph, municipal broadband providers have borne the brunt of heavy lobbying and disinformation efforts in the past. The big ISPs, in particular, have missed no opportunity over the last decades to ask that municipalities be kept out of the ISP business. They have regularly sponsored whitepapers that malign municipal ISPs, and that claim that municipal ISPs are all failures, when it’s obvious that they are not.
In addition to a lobbying role, AAPB will also act to provide expert advice on broadband policy, and will start to track federal and state developments that affect municipalities. The organization already has some resources on the website, like a list of the restrictions in various states against municipal broadband.
The new group obviously has a big challenge in front of them. They claim that big ISPs are spending $8 million per week just to lobby in Washington D.C., and it’s obvious that they will never match that effort. But the success of trade associations like WISPA shows that smart advocacy can get positions heard and can sway D.C. decision makers. I find it refreshing to hear another voice in the debate, which I must admit is a little selfish on my part. I learn a lot about what is happening in D.C. by following what the various trade associations are doing – and I look forward to hearing about issues from the perspective of municipalities.