Although I agree with Rep. Blackburn that government involvement in communications is a states’ rights issue, I find it rather ironic that she is going about it with a federal law. I have applauded Chairman Wheeler’s support of allowing municipalities to take control of their broadband destiny even though I do not believe that they should be in the communications services business. I do not believe that the FCC has the authority to trump state law in saying that states cannot pass laws prohibiting cities from building and operating broadband networks. This fact is why I am deeply suspicious of Rep. Blackburn’s bill.
The LightReading article below is a good synopsis of the situation without the typical editorializing I have seen in many other publications. I agree that there should be no state laws prohibiting local governments from determining their broadband destiny, but I do not believe that they should become a service provider like so many of them attempt. The communications’ industry moves much quicker than electric or water utilities, and the market works better when there are more competitors not one that can operate with an unfair advantage. I do support local governments building and selling the infrastructure though.
My favorite recent headline about the ongoing legislative brouhaha over municipal networks is this one, from a publication called The Escapist: “Tenn. Congresswoman Valiantly Protects ISPs from Evil Municipal Broadband.”
That sarcasm is a reference to an amendment attached by US House of Representatives Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) to the fiscal 2015 Financial Services appropriations bill that would keep regulators from modifying state laws prohibiting municipalities from building and operating broadband networks. The amendment was approved 223-200 in the House last week, but a final version of the bill must still be passed by the House and Senate and signed by President Obama to become law.
The topic is a hotly debated one of late, as more municipalities and municipally owned utilities, frustrated by what they consider to be less than acceptable levels of broadband service, take matters into their own hands and build networks, usually funded by bond issues approved by taxpayer vote. Such activity in Blackburn’s own home state of Tennessee is frequently cited as the model for municipal network deployment, thanks in large part to the success of EPB Fiber Optics , the unit of the municipally owned utility in Chattanooga that has operated a gigabit network there for four years and is currently seeking to expand its network into other parts of the state.
Blackburn’s aim is to prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)from pre-empting state legislation, particularly in the 20 states that have laws regarding municipal broadband (including Tennessee). FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, along with several Democratic members of Congress, contend that municipal networks shouldn’t be blocked by state laws and that the FCC has and will exert the authority to pre-empt them. (See Dems Urge FCC Action to Protect Muni Nets.)