There is a club of U.S. mayors fixated on improving the way broadband Internet works in their cities. And, while it's new, it's growing. Called Next Century Cities, the group added Medina County, Ohio, this week and now numbers 50 cities (and the occasional county). That makes 50 municipalities now turning their attention to understanding how to best bring broadband to their citizens, whether that's figuring out how to build out Internet connections to historic buildings or passing bonds to pay for new fiber networks.
Though the group is in its infancy, its early expansion is a signal of what seems to be a shift in the way Americans are thinking about high-speed Internet access: the idea that cities will the battlegrounds for the playing out of the broadband debates. One effect of these cities working so closely with Google as it rolls out its fiber network in places like Kansas City and Austin is a realization that mayors can take broadband into their own hands -- whether that's through a municipal solution like Chattanooga's gigabit network or through partnering with traditional Internet service providers such as Comcast or Time Warner Cable.
Says Next Century Cities executive director Deb Socia, "Cities want their voices heard as our country debates the future of broadband."
The group has a handful of priorities, including framing broadband as a nonpartisan issue and emphasizing that communities deserve more than one or two choices of Internet providers. But perhaps chief among its ambitions is convincing the public that broadband is "necessary infrastructure," in the same way roads and bridges and the water supply are.
Next Century Cities launched in late October with 32 cities, including Los Angeles, San Antonio and Boston. Support for the organization comes from, among others, the Ford Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Open Society Foundation and -- it should be pointed out -- Google, which got into the Internet service provider business with the launch of Google Fiber back in 2010.
In some spots in the United States, there are laws that limit the ability of localities to get into the broadband game themselves. But there, too, are signs of a shift: In Colorado recently, voters in seven cities and counties rejected legal restrictions on their capacity to roll out their own broadband networks.