Baltimore council president wants to consider city-owned internet service

The Baltimore City Council president wants city officials to consider creating a public broadband network as the Trump administration moves to repeal open internet rules.

President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is scheduled to introduce three resolutions at the council’s Monday meeting that are designed to ensure that city residents have affordable access to high-speed internet.

The city could keep costs down for internet customers by launching its own network, Young said.

“It would be a big undertaking, but I think it’s an undertaking that we need to take because of the rule changes,” he said. “This is something we as a city should explore.”

In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal the President Obama-era “net neutrality” rules that banned internet service providers from moving different kinds of content at different speeds or prices over their networks.

The decision clears the way for internet service providers such as Comcast, AT&T or Verizon to create different access lanes at varying prices. They could control the speed of content and charge consumers more to access the fastest lanes.

Those who agreed with the FCC decision say “net neutrality” stifles innovation by service providers.

One of the resolutions Young plans calls for more information about how the FCC’s repeal of the rules would affect the city.

In the wake of the FCC vote, cities across the country have expressed renewed interest in setting up their own networks, enticed by the promise of higher speeds and lower costs than the services offered by cable companies.

In Maryland, the cities of Westminster and Easton have such arrangements. Baltimore has some publicly owned fiber infrastructure but it’s not generally available to individual consumers and officials have struggled to find ways to use it.

Christopher Mitchell, a researcher at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said building a network that served individual customers would be a massive project, estimating the cost at hundreds of millions of dollars.

“If I were the king of Baltimore I think I would be focused on how to make sure particularly low-income children have broadband access in their homes,” said Mitchell, who advocates for public ownership of networks.

Broadband providers have cited public networks as a business threat and lobbied against efforts to set them up elsewhere. Young said he’s not worried about getting into a fight with broadband companies and thinks Baltimore’s ownership of its utility conduit system gives it more leverage than other cities.

Comcast, a major broadband provider in the city, declined to comment on the proposal.

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