Congresswoman Proposes Amendment to Stop FCC From Meddling With ‘State Issues’

US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has always been opposed to the FCC regulating anything, but she has been particularly outspoken about the FCC's Open Internet Order since it was introduced in 2010. To that point, Rep. Blackburn recently said that she wants to make sure the FCC never interferes with "states' rights" to protect private Internet service providers from having to compete against municipal broadband networks.

This is particularly interesting because this kind of thinking on regional issues has prompted interest groups and the lawmakers they influence in 20 states to pass laws that make it difficult to build broadband networks if you are a small town or a big city.

Last month FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pledged to use his authority to "preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband."

As Ars Technica points out, Wheeler may get a chance to flex his muscles on that issue because EPB, a community-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee recently said it is "considering filing a petition to the FCC" to overturn a state law that prevents it from offering Internet and video service outside its electric service area.

"There are vast areas of Tennessee, surrounding EPB’s electric service territory, where citizens and businesses have little or no broadband Internet connectivity," EPB said in its announcement this month. "For several years EPB has received regular requests to help some of these communities obtain critical broadband Internet infrastructure. However, since 1999, while state law has allowed EPB to provide phone services outside its electric service territory, it has prohibited EPB from offering Internet and video services to any areas outside its electric service area."

But Blackburn wants to prevent this sort of thing – the FCC meddling in a state issue, as she says. Yesterday, she proposed an amendment to a general government appropriations bill that would prohibit taxpayer funds from being used by the FCC to preempt state laws governing municipal broadband.

But Blackburn's proposal is a bit of a contradiction, because she seems to have no problem with States taking the kinds of actions – meddling in local affairs – that she is so strongly against when it comes to the FCC.

"We don't need unelected federal agency bureaucrats in Washington telling our states what they can and can't do with respect to protecting their limited taxpayer dollars and private enterprises," says Blackburn. "As a former state senator from Tennessee, I strongly believe in states' rights. I found it deeply troubling that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly stated that he intends to preempt states' rights when it comes to the role of state policy over municipal broadband."

It should be noted that Blackburn received $10,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association this year and last year, according to She received $12,500 in contributions from Verizon, $10,000 from AT&T, $7,500 from Comcast, and $7,000 from representatives of Time Warner Cable. (These donations come from the companies' political action committees, employees, or owners.)

The bill in question is H.R. 5016, or the "Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act of 2015."

Meanwhile, the National League of Cities, National Association of Counties, and National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors sent a letter to Congress this week urging lawmakers to defeat Blackburn's amendment.

"[S]tate laws that prohibit or restrict public and public/private broadband projects… harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, and hamper work force development," the letter said. "The private sector alone cannot enable the United States to take full advantage of the opportunities that advanced communications networks can create in virtually every area of life. As a result, federal, state, and local efforts are taking place across the Nation to deploy both private and public broadband infrastructure to stimulate and support economic development and job creation, especially in economically distressed areas. But such efforts are being thwarted in some areas by State laws that prohibit or restrict municipalities from working with private broadband providers, or developing themselves, if necessary, the advanced broadband infrastructure that will stimulate local businesses development, foster work force retraining, and boost employment in economically underachieving areas."

We will have more on this story as it develops…

Source: Ars Technica

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