After FCC Lifts Municipal Broadband Restrictions, the Reaction Flows In


The Federal Communications Commission preempted state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevented broadband providers in the two states from meeting local demand for broadband service. Here’s the reaction.

House Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), “Preemption of state law is a limited power reserved to the U.S. Congress. Today’s 3-2 vote is as disappointing as it is predictable with this commission where political victory is so often put ahead of the rule of law and the economy’s best interest. The FCC should respect the decisions of each state - whether to allow their municipalities to build out broadband networks or not. A one-size-fits-all approach from unelected Washington bureaucrats prevents states and municipalities from making the tough choices to allocate precious taxpayer dollars.”

“I salute the FCC’s vote to preserve the rights of communities trying to make important broadband investments,” Sen Cory A. Booker (D-NJ) said. “As mayor of Newark, I saw how cities are often in the best position to innovate and find solutions to the specific challenges facing their residents. Sadly, some states have enacted laws that bar cities from connecting their communities. With this vote, the FCC is standing up for the rights of municipalities over special interests that may not find it profitable to invest in low-income and rural areas. It’s another step in the right direction as Americans seek to leverage their strengths in the digital age.”

“Tearing down barriers that prevent communities from developing local solutions when there is little or no choice in Internet service provider is one of the great challenges for competition and innovation in the broadband marketplace,” Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-MA) said. “Today’s action by the FCC will support the ability of municipalities to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks and provide community members with high speed Internet service. I applaud the FCC for using its authority to support greater local choice and end restrictions placed upon local communities to make these decisions for themselves.”

“This vote is good news for folks in small towns and rural areas,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said. “I’m glad the FCC set a precedent that acknowledges the internet needs of residents in our smaller communities—who deserve the same access as everyone else to the internet—and the jobs and business opportunities the internet brings.”

“More and more communities across the country are recognizing that access to high-speed broadband is an economic and educational necessity,” Sen. Angus King (I-ME) said. “In areas where affordable access to next-generation speeds doesn’t exist, forward-looking towns and cities – like Rockport, South Portland, and Ellsworth in Maine – are partnering with broadband providers to connect their public buildings, businesses, and residences. Today’s decision to clear the way for the expansion of municipal broadband projects sends an important message of support to localities around the country that are taking charge of their economic futures.”

“Expanding access to the Internet is key for economic growth in rural Oregon and the rest of the U.S.,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said. “Whether it’s getting the next big thing out of the garage, allowing a student quick access to information or increasing broadband competition, everyone benefits when communities can provide broadband. Today’s vote will foster innovation and let communities make their own decisions about how to expand broadband.”

Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, lead counsel to Wilson and EPB in their proceedings before the FCC, applauds the Commission for removing the protectionist provisions of North Carolina and Tennessee law that have prevented Wilson and EPB from investing in advanced communications capabilities and bringing competition to areas outside their current broadband Internet access service areas, including unserved and underserved areas. Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the FCC to ensure that broadband is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis to all Americans. If the FCC determines that advanced communications capabilities are not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely manner, Section 706 requires the FCC to “take immediate action to accelerate deployment…by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition.” In removing the provisions of NC and TN law that prevented Wilson and EPB from expanding their networks, the FCC is acting in accordance with the dictates of Section 706 and is paving the way for many businesses and residents of North Carolina and Tennessee to gain access to Wilson’s and EPB’s state-of-the-art fiber networks and services.

Chris Lewis, Vice President of Government Affairs at Public Knowledge, “We applaud this decision by the FCC and congratulate Chattanooga and Wilson citizens on their victory. When an incumbent provider cannot or will not provide high-speed broadband, many local communities have no choice but to do it themselves. Today's decision by the FCC affirms the right of every community, no matter how small, to make these decisions for themselves and ensure that they are not left out of the 21st century marketplace. Local communities should be able to decide what broadband economic development projects they start without state laws crafted by cable lobbyists blocking their way. Local taxpayers are savvy enough to make these tough choices and assume the risk of the investment of their own tax dollars.”

“Today is a turning point in the debate over broadband investment in our towns and cities," said Joshua Stager, policy counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute. "The commission's decision to remove barriers in Chattanooga and Wilson is a victory for consumer choice, market competition, and local self-determination. These regulatory barriers limit consumer choice in places that need more broadband competition, not less. Cities can’t compete in a global economy without robust broadband infrastructure. Local government can play a critical role in network development, particularly in areas where incumbent providers are not meeting local needs," Stager added. "Indeed, our research has consistently found that some of the fastest and most affordable broadband in America comes from community networks. All localities should be free to make these kinds of smart investments in their own infrastructure."

“NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association has urged policymakers time and again to take stock of what has worked in deploying advanced networks and delivering sustainable, high-quality communications services in communities across the country,” said NTCA Senior Vice President of Policy Michael Romano. “Unfortunately, today’s decision pre-empting several state laws appears to cast about for ‘the next big thing’ in broadband deployment and may put private investment at risk, rather than building upon existing efforts that leverage the best combination of public and private solutions to solve broadband challenges. In addition, as NTCA has explained to the FCC, there are serious doubts as to whether the path chosen in today’s pre-emption order is legally sustainable, meaning that the decision is more likely to generate regulatory uncertainty than solve those broadband challenges. With the decision behind us, we hope that the commission will now turn its attention back to building upon proven initiatives and leveraging existing efforts to realize and then sustain our shared national broadband vision.”

“We share the commission’s interest in accelerating broadband deployment to unserved Americans," USTelecom president Walter McCormick said."However, today’s action to pre-empt the judgment of elected state legislatures on the best approach to having their local municipalities deliver broadband services is a distraction from the hard work of improving the regulatory climate for all broadband providers to invest in new and improved infrastructure, and serves little purpose given the likelihood that it will be overturned by the courts. The FCC could best facilitate further investment and competition in broadband services by focusing its efforts on removing the regulatory hurdles to a smooth transition to IP networks, fully implementing Phase II of the Connect America Fund, updating the rural Universal Service Fund for broadband, and taking additional steps to lower the costs of access to local rights-of-way and pole attachments that can make up 20 percent of the cost of deploying fiber.”

Katie McAuliffe, executive director of Digital Liberty, noted that Chattanooga Electrical Power Board has large debts, adding: "It received over $111 million in stimulus money and borrowed almost $400 million in bonds to build a fiber optic grid in a place that other providers were already serving perfectly well. In Chattanooga, two to three providers were already available to Tennesseans. This debt, of course, rests not on the EPB, but on the taxpayers in all of the EPB service areas whether they receive municipal broadband or not."

Heather Gold, president of the Fiber to the Home (FTTH) Council Americas, said: "The FTTH Council applauds the FCC for taking this step to further enable deployment of fiber to the home. Communities are hungry for bandwidth — for their economies, healthcare, education and quality of life. Citizens should be able to use all available assets to encourage all entities — ILECs, CLECs, utilities and municipalities — to deploy leading edge, future proof networks."

Statement (Baller Herbst Stokes and Lide) Public Knowledge Supports FCC Vote to Accelerate Municipal Broadband Development (Public Knowledge) Statement (NTCA) Stakeholders React to FCC Pre-emption Vote (Multichannel News) Statements (Senate Dems)