CEDAR FALLS, Iowa — President Obama bit the hand that helped to fund his re-election Wednesday, criticizing big cable companies for holding monopolies in many communities and calling for faster broadband Internet service across America.
Many Americans are “pretty much at the whim of whatever Internet provider is around,” Mr. Obama said. “Meanwhile, you’re wondering why your rates keep on getting jacked up when the service doesn’t seem to improve.”
“In too many places across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors,” he said.
One of Mr. Obama’s biggest supporters during his re-election effort in 2012 was the cable giant Comcast. Mr. Obama has played golf with Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, and Comcast executive vice president David L. Cohen hosted big-money fundraisers for the president in Philadelphia.
Speaking at a utilities complex in Cedar Falls, which has a broadband network about 100 times faster than the national average, the president said he’s asking the Federal Communications Commission and his Cabinet agencies to push back against state laws that “stamp out competition.”
“In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like you’ve got here in Cedar Falls,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re going to change that. Enough’s enough. I’m saying I’m on the side of competition. I believe that a community has a right to make its own choice.”
The president praised Cedar Falls for its high-speed network, saying, “You can log on for about the same price as some folks pay for a fully loaded cable bundle. Folks around the nation want these broadband networks.”
Cedar Falls is home to a 1 GB broadband network, which the town upgraded about five years ago. Other Internet providers are available to consumers who don’t want to pay for the fastest service.
The president said faster Internet access is crucial to success in the global digital economy.
“Today high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Mr. Obama said. “This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete.”
Bill Kovacs, a senior vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the administration “is ignoring the tremendous private-sector investment and innovation that is bringing increased broadband access and speeds to millions of Americans.”
“If the administration is serious about expanding broadband and reducing regulatory barriers, it should not impose new levels of uncertainty and set up government-subsidized competitors, when all evidence indicates that hundreds of billions of dollars of private-sector investment have been driving economic growth,” Mr. Kovacs said.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, Michigan Republican, and Communications and Technology subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, Oregon Republican, said in a statement that the government should encourage private investment in broadband networks.
“With precious dollars already stretched thin, state and local officials know better than Beltway bureaucrats what’s best for their communities,” they said. “That private investment is the engine that drives Internet innovation and brings high-speed Internet access to every corner of our country — a goal we all share.”