President Obama announced new steps to increase "access to faster, cheaper broadband" to communities across the country in Cedar Falls, Iowa on Wednesday . (

President Obama on Wednesday continued his unveiling of new policy proposals ahead of next week’s State of the Union address, calling for high-speed Internet service to be more widely available and less expensive across the nation.

“Today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Obama said in Cedar Falls, a city of 40,000 where a community-owned utility provides one of the fastest broadband services in the country.

The pitch for faster, cheaper Internet access comes as part of a concerted White House effort over the past week to roll out early details of Obama’s State of the Union speech, which is scheduled to be delivered at the Capitol on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Obama will propose that Congress adopt the Healthy Families Act, which would grant Americans seven days a year of paid sick time, according to White House officials.

Adviser Valerie Jarrett, writing Wednesday on the LinkedIn Web site, said Obama would also sign
a presidential memorandum granting federal employees six weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child and six additional weeks of unpaid administrative leave.

“I’m going to focus on how we can build on the progress we’ve already made and help more Americans feel that resurgence in their daily lives,” Obama said in Iowa, referring to his State of the Union plans.

In his technology remarks here, Obama criticized state laws that deter competition among Internet service providers, making it difficult for small start-ups that want to provide high-speed connectivity. He said 19 states have laws that “stamp out the competition.”

State and federal officials, including the Federal Communications Commission, “should do everything we can to push back on these old laws,” he said.

But Republicans on the FCC said such projects have had a mixed record. “Municipal broadband has never been the panacea that supporters claim and the administration now boasts,” FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said Wednesday.

In addition to being plagued by cost overruns and performance problems, critics said, some city projects have been vehicles for pushing a government-run Internet.

“Obama wants to talk about government-built networks because it reminds progressives of the New Deal, where the government went out and built things,” said Berin Szoka, president of the libertarian-leaning TechFreedom think tank.

Skeptics of municipal broadband said broadband companies must typically ask permission from cities and utilities before they can lay down high-speed fiber-optic cables — a major deterrent to private investment. Only the most powerful companies, such as Google, can compel cities to make adequate concessions, they said.

The search giant’s broadband arm, Google Fiber, is deploying gigabit-speed Internet service in three U.S. cities with plans to expand to as many as nine additional cities this year.

In Cedar Falls, about 88 percent of households subscribe to the community high-speed Internet service, as do about 650 business customers, according to Betty Zeman, the marketing manager for Cedar Falls Utilities.

The most popular residential plan is $45.50 a month, with the highest-speed, 1-gigabit service, for $135 a month.

Earlier this week, as part of his focus on Internet issues, the president announced legislation that would protect companies that share computer threat data with the government to help prevent cyberattacks, would require companies to be more transparent with customers after data breaches and would ensure that data from students is used only for educational purposes.

Steve Mufson and Brian Fung in Washington contributed to this report.