For the second time in as many months, FCC boss Tom Wheeler has hinted that the FCC may take steps to pre-empt laws written and passed by broadband incumbent ISPs that prohibit towns and cities from building their own broadband -- even in cases where nobody else will.
In a blog post
, Wheeler uses the utility-provided broadband services by the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee (see our overwhelmingly-positive user reviews
of EFB Fiber) as an example of how many of these projects can work out, despite a decade of hang-wringing from the usual folks eager to defend the status quo.
"Local phone and cable companies chose to delay improvements in broadband service to the Chattanooga area market," notes Wheeler. "Without faster networks, Chattanooga residents were at risk of finding themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide, bypassed by the opportunities high-speed connectivity enables."
Chattanooga's EFB Fiber recently started offering 1 Gbps connections for $70
, and might never have started if they hadn't survived a legal onslaught from Comcast years ago. In addition to trying to sue the project out of oblivion, Comcast helped lobby and pass a Chattanooga version of more than twenty state laws that prohibits the growth (or even creation) of these projects.
"Tennessee’s law is restricting Chattanooga from expanding its network’s footprint, inhibiting further growth," said Wheeler. "The mayor told me how adjoining communities have asked to join the network, but cannot also be served by a simple extension of the broadband network because of the state law."
Wheeler goes on to note that an actual review of the record shows "far more successes than failures" with these projects, and notes that local ISPs shouldn't be curtailing citizen rights to do whatever they'd like in their own communities. Municipal opponents often deride the supposed horrors of government's help in improving broadband, but oddly downplay the problems with letting incumbent ISPs write (buy) protectionist laws that only help themselves at the cost of local voting rights.
"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," said Wheeler. "Given the opportunity, we will do so."
While his comments are promising, it should be noted that once again Wheeler fails to specify exactly how he'll accomplish this and when he'll start. We've been watching states pass these protectionist laws for the better part of a decade and a half now, and despite a lot of lip service from both parties of government about their love of broadband competition over that time period, not much of substance gets done on the subject.