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Community broadband has always been hindered by state laws — often advanced by local Big ISP lobbyists — designed to control or discourage their growth. The Federal Communications Commission may finally be preparing to take action on the problem.
As broadband speed has been on his mind lately, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued the following statement today about a proposed Order on community broadband:
“Communities across the nation know that access to robust broadband is key to their economic future — and the future of their citizens. Many communities have found that existing private-sector broadband deployment or investment fails to meet their needs. They should be able to make their own decisions about building the networks they need to thrive.”
Wheeler says he will circulate to his fellow commissioners this week. He continues:
“After looking carefully at petitions by two community broadband providers asking the FCC to preempt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks, I recommend approval by the Commission so that these two forward-thinking cities can serve the many citizens clamoring for a better broadband future.”
Not surprisingly, it’s the Big Telco lobby that’s been the writing and promotion of these laws. The end result is less speed and more markets where choice of a provider is limited to one.
The whole thing was really brought about by petitions from two different community broadband networks, requesting the review of obstructionist state laws. The City of Wilson, North Carolina, and the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Ten., were the parties that petitioned the FCC.
It’s easy to find people and groups applauding Wheeler’s words today.
“Every community should have the right to determine its broadband needs and the path of its digital future, including the ability to pick competition over monopoly for broadband services,” said Shiva Stella of the tech-advocacy group Public Knowledge in a statement sent to VentureBeat. “Chairman Wheeler has taken an important first step by advancing these two petitions forward.”
“In our view and experience, these statutes are frequently written or lobbied by incumbent phone and cable companies, and amount to pure protectionism for monopolists and duopolists who prefer not to face competition,” said a CTC Energy & Technology spokesperson in a statement.
“Eliminating the artificial barriers to competition that exist in many states will greatly improve the likelihood that people will have local choice as well as options for fast and affordable internet access,” said Colorado Communications and Utility Alliance president Todd Barnes.
It’s a little more difficult getting a comment from those who might oppose the FCC’s potential actions.
The CTIA (AKA The Wireless Association), which represents the nation’s largest phone companies, did respond to requests for comment.
The National Cable Telecommunications Association (NCTA) also declined comment.
The FCC may act on the Wilson and Chattanooga petitions later this month. The commission might work at the state level to preempt laws that create barriers to the growth of broadband networks operated by communities.
Changes in state laws might also help existing fiber players like Google move into new markets faster and easier. The Google Fiber service will reach 18 new communities in four metro areas “later this year.”
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