State Lawmakers Bash FCC Plan To End Muni-Broadband Restrictions

An organization representing state lawmakers is protesting Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's plan to nix laws that restrict municipal broadband.

“As you consider your course of action on this matter, we encourage you to heed the principles of federalism and caution you of the numerous decisions by the United States Supreme Court with regard to the relationship between the state and its political subdivisions,” the National Conference of State Legislatures says in a letter sent to Wheeler this week.

The group goes on to threaten to sue the FCC for enacting rules that would “diminish the duly adopted laws of the impacted states or prevent additional states from exercising their well-established rights to govern in the best interests of the voters.”

The NCSL adds that any FCC attempt to nix state regulations over broadband “disregards the countless hours of deliberation and votes cast by locally elected lawmakers across the country and supplants it with the impulses of a five-member appointed body in Washington, D.C.”

The organization is responding to Wheeler's vow to invalidate any state restrictions on muni broadband. He first talked about doing so as part of a package for new net neutrality regulations. Later, Wheeler took an even more strident tone. “I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so,” Wheeler said in a June blog post.

Even though neutrality advocates criticize other elements of Wheeler's broadband plans -- especially the proposal that would allow providers to create pay-for-play fast lanes -- neutrality proponents generally support Wheeler's plan to end restrictions on municipal networks.

Neutrality proponents generally argue that municipal networks exert competitive pressure on incumbent Internet service providers, resulting in cheaper prices and faster service for residents of towns that have built their own networks. The best-known example is probably Chattanooga, Tenn., which in 2010 began rolling out a 1 Gbps network -- the fastest in the country, at the time.

Faced with the threat of competition from local cities, incumbent providers are lobbying state lawmakers to restrict municipalities from creating their own broadband networks. Currently, almost two dozen states restrict muni-broadband -- including Tennessee, where a recent law prohibits Chattanooga's network from expanding.

Some Republicans in Congress are siding against Wheeler on this issue. In fact, the House recently approved a measure aimed at blocking the FCC from getting involved in state battles over muni-broadband.

On the other hand, organizations representing cities and counties like Wheeler's plan to trump state restrictions, as do Democrats in the Senate. A group of Democratic lawmakers recently sent Wheeler a letter praising his plan to boost community broadband. The Democrats have asked Wheeler to present a specific plan for community broadband by next week.

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1 comment about "State Lawmakers Bash FCC Plan To End Muni-Broadband Restrictions ".
  1. Paul Robinson from Viridian Development Corporation , July 24, 2014 at 10:23 p.m.
    I had said many times that I object to rules that allow providers to restrict traffic and to require them to treat all traffic (of the same class) equally, This means (to use an analogy) that if you own the only bridge or access road into a gated community, you have to let everyone there order from any pizza place and you have to give everyone who offers a product or service the same access, and not unduly restrict any other (pizza) provider, even if you own a particular pizza store. It also means you can, however, allow some who want to pay extra for additional services to do so, provided it's on the same terms to anyone else and you don't damage the access of those not paying. As for state agencies suing the FCC, they have no case. The FCC has exclusive national jurisdiction over wired and wireless communications and has exercised its override capability more than once, specifically dealing with WiFi, which makes local rules that allow restrictions on offering it or requiring a tenant to use the building owner's wifi network (and paying a fee, instead of operating their own network) such as some airports tried to do, is prohibited,. Otherwise it could have been argued the FCC's requirement that callers within an overlaid area code being required to dial the 10-digit number were unconstitutional since a call within the same area code is automatically intrastate in nature and the state regulators should have the right to decide if 10-digit dialing within the same area code is to be mandated.