State legislature group wants right to bar municipal broadband networks

A group representing state legislatures wants to make sure private Internet service providers don't face competition from taxpayer-funded city-run broadband networks. The group, called the National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL), is threatening a legal challenge to the Federal Communications Commission should the FCC attempt to preempt state laws barring municipal networks.

Last month, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in a blog post, “If the people, acting through their elected local governments, want to pursue competitive community broadband, they shouldn’t be stopped by state laws promoted by cable and telephone companies that don’t want that competition.”

He continued, “I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.”

Wheeler's comments were prompted by the inability of the inability of Chattanooga, TN, to expand its municipal network because of a state prohibition. Chattanooga, he said, because “local phone and cable companies chose to delay improvements in broadband service to the Chattanooga area market.” In some adjoining communities, he continued, “there is no available broadband service whatsoever.”

Brendan Sasso, in National Journal, writes, “If the FCC tries to strike down a state law, it would likely point to Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which gives the agency the authority to promote the deployment of broadband. State laws that restrict municipal broadband could be in violation of that provision, according to the FCC.” He notes that House Republicans last week approved a measure that would prohibit the FCC from preempting state law, but the measure is unlikely to pass the Senate.

You can download the NCSL letter here.

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