Now, Wilson, N.C. and Chattanooga, Tenn. -- two cities that built their own high-speed fiber networks -- are giving Wheeler the chance to do so. Both recently filed petitions asking the FCC to vacate laws in their states that are hindering cities from building other new muni-broadband networks.
This week, a coalition of advocacy groups asked the FCC to grant those petitions. “Restoring authority to local governments, so they may decide for themselves if a municipal investment or partnership is an appropriate way to expand high speed Internet access, will result in a more rapid deployment of high speed Internet access,” the Institute for Self-Reliance says in comments joined by five other organizations -- Common Cause, Center for Media Justice, Media Mobilizing Project, Public Knowledge and Writers Guild of America, West.
The groups point out that many towns invested in muni-broadband networks only as a last resort, after the incumbent providers failed to offer adequate, reasonably-priced service. “Local governments have made investments across the country to expand access to entities that otherwise would not have had it. In some cases, they waited to invest until all other options had been exhausted,” they say.
Separately, Jonathan Taplin, director of the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California, is also asking the FCC to preempt state laws that limit muni-broadband. “The attempt by state legislatures, mostly at the behest of the cable and telco lobbyists, to block municipalities from deploying broadband fiber networks, limits the choice of local citizens and businesses to have access to cutting edge technology,” he writes.
He adds that the network in 1 Gbps network in Chattanooga (the fastest in the country when it launched in 2010) has spurred a “revitalized technology scene” there. “We see no reason why the citizens of the surrounding towns shouldn't also have access to this wonderful tool.”
Not surprisingly, telecoms and cable companies -- which lobbied for the anti-broadband laws -- are asking the FCC to leave those laws in place. The industry group U.S. Telecom Association says in its comments that the FCC lacks the authority to invalidate state restrictions on broadband.
That organization also argues that the FCC shouldn't involve itself with state officials' decisions. “While there are examples of successful public broadband networks, the efficacy of public broadband remains an open question, and state legislatures are in the best position to address the issue,” the lobbying group writes. “The Commission should not interfere with state decisions on how best to promote broadband merely to advance an unproven business model that may arguably cause more harm than good.”