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The FCC will vote next month on whether to help cities build their own Internet

US President Barack Obama speaks about increasing access to high speed and affordable internet at Cedar Falls Utilities in Cedar Falls, Iowa, January 14, 2015. The town of Cedar Falls has built their own private high-speed internet network and runs it like a public utility. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Telecom regulators will vote on petitions in February from two cities that want more flexibility to build and operate their own Internet service, a FCC official confirmed.

The petitions from Chattanooga, Tenn. and Wilson, N.C. request federal help in preempting state laws that make it difficult for city governments to set up government-run competitors to large Internet providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T. The vote is expected to take place at the FCC's monthly meeting on Feb. 26, said the FCC official, who declined to be named because the commission's agenda has not been released.

If the petitions are approved, it would set up a battle between the federal government and 20 states that either ban municipal broadband projects outright or create hurdles for local communities that feel they need a public alternative to commercial broadband.

News of the vote comes after President Obama sent a letter to the FCC calling on it to act against those state laws.

"If the community decides, 'This is something we want to do,'" said Obama in a speech on municipal broadband Wednesday, "they should be able to do it."

On Wednesday, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said he was "preparing to respond to complaints" from Chattanooga, Tenn. and Wilson, N.C., but didn't offer a specific timeline.

Supporters of publicly run broadband say it forces incumbent Internet service providers to compete, deliver better service and lower prices, particularly in rural and mid-sized cities that may be underserved by those companies. In places like Chattanooga, which has been offering municipal broadband for years, consumers can buy gigabit-per-second connections that offer download speeds roughly 100 times the national average for $70 a month.

Opponents argue that municipal broadband is often too costly for taxpayers, that cities should make it easier for ISPs to invest in improving their networks and that the FCC lacks the authority to intercede.

The FCC's February agenda hasn't been published yet, but we know it'll be a jam-packed meeting; the agency is also set to consider its new rules on net neutrality.