Municipal Broadband Comes Under Federal Attack


As AT&T, Comcast and Verizon continue their unmitigated assault on net neutrality at the federal level, and municipal broadband at the state level, they’ve found a new federal ally. Representative Marsha Blackburn now wants to strip even more power from the FCC and municipalities when it comes to making decisions about local broadband infrastructure. Calling it a “states rights” issue, she’s introduced an amendment that would ban the FCC from stepping into to make allowances for municipal broadband in states with laws that already ban such networks.

The House has already agreed to Blackburn’s proposal which reads, not surprisingly, like proposals filtering their way through state legislatures to ban municipal networks. However, putting federal teeth behind the gambit makes it more troubling.

The proposal comes after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler threw a bone to municipalities and said that those networks shouldn’t be blocked, especially in areas where service is lacking.

Surprisingly, Blackburn represents Tennessee which is an object lesson in the potential success for well planned municipal networks. Chattanooga has seen improvements in access and economic development, since implementing a gigabit municipal network. The state legislature there also delivered a package of legislation designed to make municipal networks easier to build. In that sense, Blackburn is actually seeking to take rights away from her state that the statehouse is in favor of. In her comments on the proposal, she pointed to laws in 21 other states banning municipal networks. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann also of Tennessee, voted against the federal measure.

Fights are underway in the 21 states with bans on the books to build municipal networks anyway. CivSource has previously reported on efforts in Colorado which started in 2011 to build municipal networks in spite of a ban that dates back to 2005. Those efforts have already been successful in some cases, which is likely helping to drive the move to a federal ban. Obviously, unbounded competition in a capitalist society is a threat to the free market.

Meanwhile, the FCC has extended the public comment period on net neutrality, so if you haven’t voiced your opposition to breaking the internet for profit, now would be a good time to get on that.

You have till midnight Friday July 18th to send your comments to Comments will be placed in the public record.