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Wheeler Wants to Eliminate Protectionist State Broadband Laws
by Karl Bode 09:15AM Wednesday Jun 11 2014
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.

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"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.

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Karl Bode
News Guy

3 recommendations

reply to tshirt

Re: has hinted that the FCC may take steps to pre-empt laws written ....

you assume he is out to "rescue" places with restrictive laws, rather then intending to seize control for the FCC?
Personally, I'm assuming he's going to talk a lot then do absolutely nothing, just like the last fifteen years of FCC bosses.


Rosston, TX

5 recommendations

reply to battleop

Re: Oh Please...

said by battleop:

they got caught red handed for over charging the city and tax payers MILLIONS of dollars for street lights that were never replaced or touched.

Conveniently you didn't mention the amount EPB was under-charging the city.

"Red handed" implies a willful and knowledgeable undesirable action. In reality it was an oversight.

Furthermore that "MILLIONS of dollars" as reported in a news outlet was never substantiated.

Soddy Daisy, TN

10 recommendations

reply to battleop
It's funny, since you work for an ISP in the Chattanooga area, that you would be vehemently outspoken against them. Everyone I know, including myself, absolutely loves EPB.

I don't think EPB ever claimed the smart grid would stop outages, but rather would reduce their scope. It's insane to think it can reroute power from the pole to your house if a tree falls on the service line, and you're being ridiculous even suggesting it.

Fact remains that you have hated EPB fiber since it's inception because you work for a competing company. Maybe not a large one, but competing nevertheless. In fact, that technically makes you no better than any other industry shill, even if it's not for Comcast et al.
RIP Dad (10-28-1955 to 4-10-2010)



6 recommendations

reply to battleop
Dude, so what???

The taxpayers are exercising THEIR RIGHTS to finance whatever sinkhole they voted for. If they fall victim to slick marketing and over-promised fantasies which will never materialize, again SO WHAT?

How dare a private corporation take away the rights of the public?

Community-drive broadband MAY NOT be the savior of a community or it MAY but that's for the community to decide. Not a private for-profit company that buys the votes needed from the government to stop the public from at least considering what they want to do with THEIR resources.

Charlotte, NC
·Northland Cable ..
·Time Warner Cable
·Verizon Broadban..

2 recommendations

reply to Mike

Re: When you have low expectations ... sometimes you are surprised.

said by Mike:

Why are conservatives like Wheeler so against states and local rights?

Because the states are proving themselves to be incompetent nin-com-poops with regards to community broadband.

I don't see this any differently than the FCC's long-standing mandate that landlords and HOA's can't prohibit you from installing a small satellite dish.

This state has banned my community from standing up an ISP on its own. How dare they? Further, they've put up so much red tape that the existing community systems are hamstrung from even doing regular maintenance that goes beyond a prescribed job.