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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:23pm

    More federal incursion on the states is good news????

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:31pm

    Good

    As you say, we will see what happens. If it isn't in writing, it isn't, and even then...

    Good, because this will open up fiber to the home, for the whole country. Sounds like an economic project with some possibilities. Microwave could be used to reach hard to get to places. Of course there will be those that just don't want it.

    Let us not forget that the industries reach is much further than the state level. I can see, well lets call them industry storm troopers, showing up in any municipality that might consider such a move, with plenty of cash for, and maybe some dirt on local politicians.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:42pm

    yes they have spent a lot but that was public money that was supposed to give more people (everyone) better broadband (decent connection speeds) to at least stream and receive streaming video! as for what he says he'll do, i'm inclined to wait and see. give praise where and when it's due but not until and make sure it is deserved!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:43pm

    Re: Good

    I too am skeptical. I have read some of the local legislation "preventing" muni broad band and the involvement by the lobbyist is unmistakable in their construction.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:44pm

    Preempt? Is he blind? That's already happened. How about he does something about the local monopolies that exist NOW, before we take his word for it?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:48pm

    Re:

    I hate to go with the cliché but it could be worse than even the current sad state of competition. Just the "competition" between say Comcast and Verizon is bad enough as it is. Imagine how bad it would be if they limited it to just one of the players?

     

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  7.  
    icon
    kP (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 2:59pm

    Re:

    Busting up monopolies is good news

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:00pm

    Re:

    I'm pulled both ways myself, but I know what you mean. Rock and a hard place.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:02pm

    Competition

    There is a point about competition that needs to be made. The FTC is as culpable as anyone. Thinking that 2 or 4 players is a competitive market. They allowed Ma Bell, they allowed single provider for cable and called a telco the competitor, they allowed the wireless market get down to four instead of creating a level playing field so the smaller guys could expand, and therefore compete.

    The FCC is not out of this as they allowed the big players to take all the bandwidth, and could have set different rules.

    How we got here is not my point. That we are here, and that those are the two agencies with the responsibility to act.

    My pessimism extends to, I don't think that they will. Too much money in the system.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:05pm

    What about townships and counties where private franchise monopolies have already been granted to private broadband ISPs, such as Comcast and Verizon.

    Will these existing franchise licensing agreements prevent the building of municipal broadband projects? Will existing franchise licensing agreements still prevent other private broadband ISPs from moving into an area and offering competing services? Such as allowing Cox Cable and Comcast Cable to compete in the same franchise licensed area?

    It sounds to me like deceiving weasel words from our current commissioner/lobbyist at the FCC, Mr. Wheeler. If Wheeler is serious about competition, he would declare regional franchise licensing agreements as anti-competitive and illegal.

    If history is any kind of gauge of FCC commissioner sincerity, then we need look no further than former FCC commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker. Four months after approving the 16.7 billion Comcast NBC Universal merger, she immediately took a lobbyist job at Comcast.

    History paints a dim picture of the future for American broadband subscribers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Re:

    The federal government is the biggest monopoly there is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Baron von Robber, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:13pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You want more than one government?! =/

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    more than one federal government I meant to type

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Who would I be replying to, Baron von Robber or Anonymous Coward?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:37pm

    I've said it before, but it bears repeating. In today's society, broadband service shares certain characteristics with electricity and water: everyone (within epsilon) uses it, losing service would have an immediate adverse impact on quality-of-life, and technical and economic factors tend toward natural monopolies with high barriers to entry.

    Let's call a spade a spade. ISPs fill the role of public utilities; let's legally recognize (and regulate) them as such.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    icon
    silverscarcat (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 3:52pm

    Re:

    In this case it is.

    Because the free markets have failed, due to the money and power that the big telcoms have.

    This is why anti-trust laws exist, to help break up monopolies and allow for more competition.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
    icon
    ECA (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 4:10pm

    1 thing

    FRANCHISE FEES..

    Those fees you pay to Cities to KEEP OTHERS OUT of like business..

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    icon
    art guerrilla (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 6:18pm

    Re:

    stop making sense, then how would the gatekeepers have our cake and eat it too ? ? ?
    you simply aren't thinking reich...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 7:15pm

    "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."

    Competition won't fix a damn thing. ISPs stand to make a lot of money by having both ends of a TCP connection as their paying customers. They will never act against each other in such a way as to reduce their customer base back to what it was under network neutrality rules. They will compete in other ways, but they'll never kill the goose with the golden egg.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2014 @ 9:48pm

    Competition

    "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."

    Competition won't fix a thing. ISPs stand to make a lot of money by having both ends of a TCP connection as their paying customers. They will never act against each other in such a way as to reduce their customer base back to what it was under network neutrality rules. They will compete in other ways, but they'll never kill the goose with the golden egg.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), Apr 30th, 2014 @ 10:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Who would I be replying to, Baron von Robber or Anonymous Coward?

    Same person - you can tell by the gravatar.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 5:37am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Don't confuse Gravatar with Identicon

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravatar

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 5:38am

    Re: Re:

    No, anti-trust laws do not exist for that purpose. They exist to go after Google for doing nothing wrong while allowing Time Warner Cable and other govt established monopolists to freely price gouge their customers.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    icon
    nasch (profile), May 1st, 2014 @ 7:23am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    So what does this site use, gravatars or identicons?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 1st, 2014 @ 8:57am

    or.... maybe he simply wants a raise in his under-the-table pay from the broadband dealers. Time will tell.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous, May 1st, 2014 @ 3:11pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Of course they're the same person. That was my point.
    When visiting this site through certain proxies, the identicon thingies don't show up. Neither do the funny/insightful/report options.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 2nd, 2014 @ 10:37am

    Re:

    It doesn't matter if they won't kill it, all you need is a sniper with good aim and bam, no more goose, no more egg. And possibly no more duopoly if he's a particularly tricksy sniper.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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