Some Good News: FCC's Wheeler Claims FCC Will Preempt State Laws Blocking Broadband Competition
from the now-make-it-so dept
We’re still fairly skeptical about FCC boss Tom Wheeler’s claims that (1) his new open internet rules will actually protect net neutrality or (2) he’s ready to go even further if they fail. However, in his latest attempt to claim that he’s really a defender of an open internet (at a cable lobbying event, of all things), Wheeler also said that he’ll have the FCC preempt state laws blocking municipal broadband competition. If true, this actually could be a big deal. The big broadband players have fought hard against municipal broadband for years, pushing bills in many states. It’s so obvious that these bills are written by the broadband players, that some politicians don’t even hide it.
However, since the Supreme Court said that it was okay to ban muni broadband a decade ago, broadband lobbyists have had a field day, passing such bans in 20 states. For years, we’ve been arguing that the threat against net neutrality is a symptom, not the real problem. It’s a symptom of the lack of competition. And one way to attack the competition problem is via municipal broadband. Yes, some muni broadband projects have failed, but many have been quite successful — and opening up the possibility of competition tends to do amazing things in making the incumbents actually sit up and realize that they need to do a better job.
Given all that, it is a fairly big deal to see Wheeler flat out say that he’s going to knock down those muni broadband bans:
[F]or many parts of the communications sector, there hasn’t been as much competition as consumers and innovation deserve. Given the high fixed costs and consequent scale economies, this isn’t especially surprising. But that makes it all the more important that we knock down public and private barriers to competition and avoid erecting new ones. It is equally important that we encourage competition wherever it is possible.
One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power—and I intend to exercise that power—to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband.
We’ll see what actually happens. As Jon Brodkin at Ars Technica notes (in the link above), there is still wiggle room, since many of those 20 state bans aren’t technically “bans” — but rather put up huge, impenetrable obstacles to muni broadband. Still, if Wheeler is serious about creating competition this is a very good place to start (though, not nearly enough on its own). Of course, doing so will require fighting the broadband players who, given how much they spent on getting those laws in place, will fight back hard.