FCC Considers Preempting or Banning State Laws That Restrict Community Broadband Initiatives

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says that state laws seeking to stop community-run broadband initiatives have to be dealt with, but he has not said how the agency plans to take on the thorny issue. In at least 20 states there are already legal restriction in place to thwart municipal broadband networks. Many of these laws or regulations were put in place with the help of campaign cash from ISPs, telecom companies (both regional and national) and trade groups representing these industries.

Wheeler hasn't offered a specific proposal or a time frame in which the FCC might take some sort of action, but on Tuesday he wrote about the topic again and detailed how the laws deprive some Americans of broadband Internet service. His comment came about after speaking with Mayor Andy Berke of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The community-owned electric utility in Chattanooga – EPB – offers fiber Internet, TV, and phone service to residents. But the service cannot expand because of state regulations.

"Mayor Berke and the city’s leaders recognized that today’s high-speed broadband networks will be the indispensable platform for tomorrow’s economic growth and the jobs of the future. That’s why Chattanooga invested in building out one of the nation’s most robust community broadband networks," Wheeler wrote.

"Tennessee is one of many states that have placed limits on the deployment of community networks," Wheeler continued. "Tennessee’s law is restricting Chattanooga from expanding its network’s footprint, inhibiting further growth. The mayor told me how adjoining communities have asked to join the network, but cannot also be served by a simple extension of the broadband network because of the state law. In some of these communities, there is no available broadband service whatsoever. Commercial broadband providers can pick and choose who to serve based on whether there is an economic case for it. On the other hand, Mayor Berke told me that Chattanooga believes that it has a duty to ensure that all of its citizens have affordable broadband Internet access."

So what can the FCC do about these types of restrictions?

"I believe that it is 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. Given the opportunity, we will do so," Wheeler wrote.

Source: Ars Technica

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