By Mayor Gary Fuller
How does Opelika, a city of less than 30,000 people, offer Internet speeds 100 times faster than the national average? Through hard work and the right for a city to determine its own path.
Cities have always been at the heart of economic expansion, entrepreneurialism and local connection to citizens, charged with ensuring high-quality education for our children, caring for our sick and elderly neighbors and laying the foundation for shared prosperity. As we look to the years ahead, high-speed broadband will only become more and more important to the quality and vitality of our community.
That’s why in Opelika, I led the charge to become the first city in Alabama to offer this cutting edge technology, both to residential and business customers. As a result, Opelika citizens now have access to fast, reliable broadband speeds that will turn possibilities into real opportunities. Businesses now have more opportunities to expand and grow, work more effectively and efficiently and compete in a larger market. Being ahead of the curve gives local economic development an edge, recruiting data-hungry companies that demand fast download and upload speeds. When you add all this to the local customer service provided to customers, you can see why the local choice is the best choice. Opelika serves the people we know and care about.
Instead of supporting – or at least not standing in the way of – cities that want this critical infrastructure, a number of states are putting laws on the books to block local action. Including Alabama. Simply put, this state-level red tape restricts competition when communities are looking for the Internet option that works for them.
In our experience and the experience of many other communities across the country, we know that there are many ways to provide this critical infrastructure of the 21st century. Some cities will work with large, established Internet services providers, others may pursue a locally-owned solution, and still others will try some combination.
Two cities, Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., recently filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission, asking the federal government to grant relief from their state’s restrictive laws. These cities have had wildly successful local broadband initiatives that can’t grow fast enough to keep up with demand. And just days ago, Chairman Wheeler proposed siding with Wilson and Chattanooga, towns that want to make their own choices.
This is important because the decision would set a precedent of pre-empting state-level laws, a big step forward for local choice everywhere. The important fact is that every city must have the power to make the best decisions for their residents, free of interference.
That’s why the Federal Communications Commission should join Chairman Wheeler in preserving these two communities’ right to self-determination.
In Opelika, our citizens are building a stronger more prosperous city based on local Internet choice. If more cities have those same opportunities, someday soon it might not be so strange for a 30,000-person city to offer blazing fast Internet.