FCC Chair Criticizes Muni-Broadband Restrictions


Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski on Friday came out against proposed legislation that would prohibit cities from building their own broadband networks.

"Proposals that would tie the hands of innovative communities that want to build their own high-speed networks will slow progress to our nation’s broadband goals and will hurt economic development and job creation in those areas," Genachowski stated.

He added that local lawmakers should "focus instead on proposals that incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure, remove barriers to broadband build-out, and ensure widespread access to high-speed networks.”

Genachowski's statement comes as the state of Georgia is considering a new proposal that would effectively prohibit municipalities from building networks in any areas that aren't "unserved."

The Municipal Broadband Investment Act (House Bill 282) defines an area as unserved if no one within a census block currently has access to Web service of at least 1.5 Mbps -- which is slower than the FCC's definition of broadband as speeds of at least 4 Mbps. The proposal also would prevent cities from building out existing networks, unless they would only extend to unserved areas. 

Observers say that the proposed Georgia bill is backed by the incumbent provider Windstream. Currently, 13 cities in Georgia have built broadband networks.

Telecoms and cable companies have lobbied for years for state legislation banning municipal networks. The incumbent providers argue that they can't compete fairly with the government. North Carolina adopted such legislation in 2011, after the city of Wilson built a fiber optic network that offered faster and cheaper service than what had been available.

But Genachowski said that the National Broadband Plan provides that local governments "have the right to move forward and build networks that serve their constituents as they deem appropriate," when private investment isn't feasible. He added that municipal projects, as well as public-private partnerships, are "vital components" of the country's broadband strategy.




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