Commentary

FCC Urged To Nix Restrictions On Muni Broadband

When FCC Chair Tom Wheeler announced last month that the agency was going to write new net neutrality rules, he also indicated that the agency was interested in examining government-imposed restrictions on municipal broadband.

Late last week, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance asked the FCC to do just that. The group filed papers urging the FCC to “use its full capacity to ensure communities have the authority to decide for themselves if a municipal network is appropriate for its situation.”

That organization says in its filing that even though not all of the several hundred muni networks operating in the U.S. have done well financially, the “overwhelming majority” have “generated more benefits than costs for the community.”

Advocacy group Public Knowledge also asked the FCC to effectively veto state laws that hinder towns from creating their own broadband networks. “To the extent state laws, acceptable use policies, or other regulatory or contractual barriers prohibit or discourage ... local and regional efforts, the FCC should declare them contrary to law,” that group wrote in a filing on Friday.

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Currently, around 19 states have laws limiting the ability of municipalities from building their own broadband networks, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Among them is North Carolina, which in 2011 passed restrictions on muni-broadband. Before state officials did so, the town of Wilson famously built a fiber-to-the-home network that offered faster and cheaper service than the incumbent providers.

Other states that don't have restrictions have considered imposing them, thanks largely to lobbying efforts of the incumbent players. Earlier this year, lawmakers in Kansas -- where Google rolled out a 1 Gbps fiber network in Kansas City -- introduced a bill that would have nixed new muni broadband networks elsewhere in the state. That bill was shelved in February, but could return in the future. Last year, state lawmakers in Georgia considered a similar measure.

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