from the ill-communication dept
The Trump FCC has made it abundantly clear it isn’t particularly keen on state, city, or local rights, especially when they interfere with AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast’s ability to make a buck. The problem: when the FCC neutered its ability to police the telecom sector at lobbyist request as part of the net neutrality repeal, it may have ironically obliterated its authority to tell states or cities what they can do.
The agency fiercely opposes your town and city’s right to build its own broadband networks, even if nobody else will and locals have voted for it. The Pai FCC has also tried (illegally and unsuccessfully so far) to ban states from trying to protect consumers from predatory telecom monopolies in the wake of federal apathy. And a number of other FCC policy changes have attempted to hamstring your town or city’s ability to stand up to wireless carriers over things like environmental reviews for cell tower placement, or the money they can collect for hosting telecom equipment in public rights of way.
This week, the FCC was sued by a broad coalition of cities which say they’ve had enough. Dozens of states have joined forces to sue the FCC over an August ruling cities say not only limit how much money cities can collect for things like environmental impact reviews on cell tower placement, but hamstrings their ability to stand up to giants like AT&T and Verizon on pretty much any issue of substance. The FCC claimed the changes were necessary to accelerate our positioning in the “race to 5G,” though cities say the changes are little more than a giant gift to the nation’s biggest telecom conglomerates:
“At least 46 cities are asking federal appeals courts to undo an FCC order they argue will force them to raise taxes or cut spending on local media services, including channels that schools, governments, and the general public can use for programming.
The lawsuits reflect a larger clash of interests among localities, media companies, and the FCC brought on by the agency?s tactic of promoting broadband deployment nationwide?especially in rural areas with spotty or no internet access?by easing rules for business.”
The case began with Eugene, Oregon (pdf), though 46 cities, along with eight counties and the state of Hawaii, have since filed seven petitions in three different circuit courts in the hopes of overturning the rules. They say the FCC’s ability to constrain the money they can collect from telecom giants will hurt localities, and is part of an overall effort to weaken any municipal opposition to AT&T and Verizon:
“…cities will have to reduce their public media budgets, stop offering services, or cut into other programs to make up the difference, Christopher Ali, associate professor in the University of Virginia?s media studies department, said.
The order also stifles municipal decision-making authority over franchise terms, Ali said. ?It allows cable companies to call the shots a lot more than they used to,? he said. The franchise order is part of ?much larger agenda to diminish the power of municipalities,? Ali said. ?We?re seeing this battle between municipalities and big media, and big media is winning.”
While the FCC says that freeing industry incumbents from oversight and accountability will spur greater broadband deployment, the net neutrality debate has shown that limited competition and regulatory capture ensures that doesn’t actually happen. Also like the net neutrality debate, the FCC may have painted itself into a corner. The courts haven’t looked kindly upon the FCC’s decision to neuter its own oversight authority over broadband, then turn around and tell cities or states what they can or can’t do, an issue that’s likely to rear its head here as well.