Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Monday that he will propose invalidating state restrictions on municipal broadband networks.
“Many communities have found that existing private-sector broadband deployment or investment fails to meet their needs,” he said today in a statement. “They should be able to make their own decisions about building the networks they need to thrive.
Currently, at least 19 states have laws curbing muni-broadband, many of which were passed as a result of lobbying efforts by telecoms and cable companies. Two cities in states that restrict muni-broadband — Wilson, N.C. and Chattanooga, Tenn. — recently petitioned the FCC to invalidate the laws.
Wheeler said on Monday that he has circulated an order granting the petitions brought by those “two forward-thinking cities.” His move comes almost three weeks after the White House called for an end to laws that restrict cities from creating their own broadband networks.
Wilson and Chattanooga both built their own fiber-optic networks, which offered faster service than what was available from the incumbents. Chattanooga's network offers speeds of 1 Gbps, making it one of the fastest in the country. That city's service “is credited with attracting major employers such as Amazon and Volkswagen to the region,” according to the FCC.
But laws in North Carolina and Louisiana have hindered other locales from creating their own networks.
The FCC said that the proposed order will find that the state restrictions “barriers to broadband investment and competition and that preemption is warranted.” The agency said in a fact sheet that towns typically build their own networks “where commercial service is unavailable, insufficient to meet community needs, or uneconomical.”
The FCC chief's move isn't surprising, given that he's said repeatedly that he wants the FCC to lift curbs on muni-broadband. But not all of the other commissioners agree that the agency should invalidate state laws. Last month, Republican Commissioners Michael O'Reilly and Ajit Pai said they believed the FCC lacks the legal authority to vacate state curbs on muni-broadband.
If the FCC votes to lift restrictions on muni-broadband networks, the move is likely to face a legal challenge. Already one group — the National Conference of State Legislatures — has vowed to sue in order to preserve state laws.
The FCC will vote on Wheeler's proposal at its meeting later this month.