A City Council committee Thursday declined to advance a proposal to study the feasibility of creating a publicly owned internet service that would compete with cable companies and expand access to the web in low income communities.

City Heights resident John Stump in January suggested that residents vote on some sort of municipally owned broadband plan. The matter was referred to the Economic Development and Intergovernmental Relations Committee, which Thursday considered if it should ask the mayor’s office to study what options the city would have to execute such a plan.

Stump floated two ideas: The city could launch its own internet service that would directly compete with cable companies such as Cox and Charter — a plan also in the works in Fort Collins, Colorado — or it could roll out a fiber optic network and charge cable companies to use it, pointing to Stockholm, Sweden as an example.

“If we want to be a city that has a technological future, we need to have competitive broadband internet access,” he said.

Stump said the plans would provide an alternative to cable monopolies and would preserve net neutrality following the Federal Communications Commission’s vote in December to end the practice of requiring internet service providers to treat all traffic equally, rather than favor one type of content over another.

While the committee members were supportive of Stump’s sentiments of the need to ensure open and affordable internet access, they declined to send the matter to the mayor’s office for detailed study.

They did, however, vote to have the full council examine the city’s internet service franchise agreements in the future, which could lead to changes in the way cable companies operate in San Diego.

Representatives from AT&T, Cox and Charter pushed back against the idea that city-owned broadband is feasible.

They pointed to Seattle as an example. A plan to provide city owned broadband fell apart in 2013 after studies indicated it would cost up to $665 million to construct a network and would require 40 percent of all households that currently have internet to pay $75 per month to be sustainable.

“There is an abundance of services provided by the broadband companies … and wireless companies,” said Ignacio De La Torre, a regional vice president at AT&T. “It’s provided on a grand scale. Low-cost broadband is provided by the cable companies.”

Councilwoman Barbara Bry called ensuring access to the internet a passion of hers, but said she doubted if  municipally owned broadband was the way to achieve that. Net neutrality should be guaranteed on a statewide level, she added.

While Cox, for example, provides discount internet access to some low- income families for as low as $5 per month, there are restrictions. In many cases the families must have a child who receives free or reduced price school lunch to quality, which locks out many people, Bry said.

“The reality is there is a digital divide and I happen to represent communities where a large portion of the population does not have access,” said Councilman David Alvarez, whose district includes San Ysidro, Barrio Logan and the Tijuana River Valley.

— City News Service