Benton Salutes FCC’s Move to Bring More Fiber to More Communities, Sooner
Today, the Federal Communications Commission sided with community-based solutions. Today, the FCC sided with choice. Today, the FCC sided with bringing better broadband everywhere.
The FCC today voted to approve the petitions of community broadband providers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, which asked that the FCC to pre-empt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks. The Benton Foundation thanks the FCC for this action.
The FCC’s decision favors the public interest over commercial interests. In 2012, the Benton Foundation and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) released Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks, a report that highlights three municipal broadband network success stories, including the one in Chattanooga. But, in too many states, telecommunications companies led by AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon Communications and Comcast have pushed through laws restricting local broadband options.
In too many communities around the U.S. – and especially in rural communities – no commercial Internet service providers are offering broadband – and do not plan to. State restrictions on community broadband mean that rural communities have no options at all to build the networks needed to participate in the digital economy. These laws stop localities from finding creative ways to work with private investors and chill the kinds of partnerships and experimentation that should be happening to close the digital divide.
Today, the FCC exercised authority granted by Congress and confirmed by the courts. The law directs the FCC to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment … by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.” In its decision on the FCC’s Open Internet rules last year, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Senior Judge Laurence Silberman all but invited the FCC to preempt the "state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies."
The FCC’s action today will boost competition. Building broadband networks requires large fixed and sunk investments. Consequently, the industry will always have a relatively small number of facilities-based competitors, at least for wireline service. Approximately 96% of the U.S. population has, at most, access to two wireline providers, so there is amble reason for the FCC to take action to increase wireline broadband competition in the United States.
Today’s FCC action could bring broadband service to communities where there is none and competition in areas where it does not exist. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler recognizes that meaningful competition for high-speed wired broadband is lacking. To take advantage of today’s new services, and to incentivize the development of tomorrow’s innovations, Americans need more competitive choices for faster and better Internet connections. Today’s FCC action means that the broadband marketplace will have to be more responsive to competitive forces.
Thanks to the FCC’s vote today, and thanks to the dedication of the localities of North Carolina and Tennessee, a year from now there will be many rural and low-income Americans in those states who will have access to world-class broadband services for the first time. Thanks to today’s action, unserved areas of those states will benefit from investment in fiber optics and unserved communities will have the chance to realize the tremendous benefits of the broadband era. The FCC’s vote will have direct, concrete meaning in the lives of Americans who have been unable to access the economic, health care, and educational benefits of fiber-based, broadband networks.
Chairman, Benton Foundation
Director of Policy, Benton Foundation