Commentary

FCC's Republicans Oppose Obama On Muni-Broadband

In 2008, the city of Wilson, N.C. rolled out a fiber-optic broadband network that offered Web speeds of 10 Mbps, more than 80 cable channels and digital phone service -- all for $100 a month. While 10 Mbps isn't all that impressive now, six years ago the network was the fastest -- and cheapest --available in the area.

Three years later, lawmakers in North Carolina passed a cable-backed law that limited other cities' ability to follow in Wilson's footsteps.

The Federal Communications Commission is now considering whether to invalidate that law -- along with muni-broadband restrictions in at least 18 other states.  The agency reportedly will vote on the matter on Feb. 26.

Last week, President Obama threw his support behind muni-broadband and called for an end to state laws that prevent cities from building their own networks. Shortly after his speech, the Commerce Department's official comments on the matter were filed. “Communities have a critical role in ensuring that the broadband needs of all their citizens are met, particularly in unserved or underserved areas,” Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary for communications and information, said in a letter to the FCC. “The Administration urges the FCC to ensure that communities have the tools necessary to satisfy demand for broadband.”

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FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made no secret of his belief that restrictions on muni-broadband should be abolished. He wrote last year that it's “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.”

But the agency is hardly unanimous. Last week, the two Republican members of the commission said the FCC should not try to do away with state laws in this area.

“This missive is completely without statutory authority and would be a good candidate for court review, if adopted,” Commissioner Michael O'Reilly said in a statement.

He pointed out that not every muni-broadband effort has been successful. “In reality, this debate is about preempting a state’s right to prevent taxpayer rip-offs,” he wrote. “Municipal broadband has never proven to be the panacea that supporters claim.”

Commissioner Ajit Pai added that the FCC lacks authority to vacate state curbs on muni-broadband.

Meanwhile, GOP lawmakers have said the FCC shouldn't weigh in on local muni-broadband laws, and the National Conference of State Legislatures has vowed to sue to preserve state laws.

1 comment about "FCC's Republicans Oppose Obama On Muni-Broadband".
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  1. Roy Moskowitz from Reciprocal Results, January 20, 2015 at 7:18 a.m.

    The Anti-Muni broadband state legislation was written and lobbied by the "American Legislative Exchange Council" (ALEC), which is funded by rightwing megadonors, the "Koch brothers", and big telecom/cable. Its Orwellian explanation for pushing the limiting of consumer broadband options are "negative impacts it has on free markets and limited government". ALEC continues, "In addition, such projects could erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government’s expanded role as a service provider."

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