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  • White House
  • President Obama talks about his push to expand municipal broadband networks while holding an iPad. On it, a chart comparing fast Internet speeds in East Asia with those in Cedar Falls and Chattanooga, which offer some of the fastest connections in the US.

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President Obama is in the small town of Cedar Falls, Iowa today to talk about something he'll be highlighting in his State of the Union address next week: the need for affordable, high-speed Internet access.

Why Cedar Falls? Because two years ago, the utility company there launched a fiber-based municipal broadband network. In this new video, Obama also talks up the success of Chattanooga, Tennessee's municipal broadband service. Both cities offer speeds of up to 1 gigabit, or 1,000 megabits per second (mbps).

I've written over and over about how Chattanooga can be a model for Seattle, and last month, the city's chief technology officer, Michael Mattmiller, flew there to meet with the energy utility that developed the program.

But Mattmiller and the mayor's office say they're waiting for the results, due in April, of another study (we've already had plenty of those) on municipal broadband before moving ahead.

If the city does take any concrete steps towards launching a gigabit municipal broadband service, it's likely to face fierce pushback from Comcast and CenturyLink. Which gets us to the two components to Obama's new municipal broadband push: one is for the FCC to overrule state laws, passed at the behest of the likes of Comcast, designed to prevent networks like Chattanooga's from expanding; the other is to re-launch the federal Broadband Initiatives Program, part of the 2009 stimulus package, to help cities get their networks off the ground. Cedar Falls was one of the grant recipients from that program.

Want to get involved locally in creating some Chattanooga-style, Cedar Falls-following awesomeness in Seattle? You're in luck, people. Check out this survey to pick a name for a pro-municipal broadband campaign (choices include Upgrade Seattle, Connecting Seattle, or Seattle for Equitable and Affordable Public Internet, among others).

Behind the survey are a handful of influential community activists and artists, including Brown Paper Tickets' Sabrina Roach, singer Hollis Wong-Wear, Social Justice Fund's Karen Toering, and Citizens' Telecommunications and Technology Advisory Board member Ben Krokower, who are prepared to organize a campaign to push Mayor Murray over the edge and into doing the right thing.

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"Municipal broadband is a triple win for equity, affordability, and speed," says Roach. "The Mayor has been doing a great job of focusing on equity, and this is a natural fit. We've been inspired by Chattanooga, Tennessee. It's inevitable that more cities will follow their lead and see the benefits for their local economies and marginalized folks. We've got a jump on it by having 550 miles of city-owned fiber-optic cable already in the ground. We just need to connect it to homes and businesses."

Get involved—and help pick the campaign name!—right here.

This post has been updated since its original publication.

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