Cities Petition FCC In Fight For Municipal Broadband

Cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., have led the charge of providing public broadband services to local communities. Today, Chattanooga and Wilson, N.C., another city that provides municipal broadband, took it a step further by filing petitions to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), asking them to remove state laws that restrict the right to provide broadband services outside their territories, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Last week, the House of Representatives approved legislation from Republican Marsha Blackburn that would forbid the FCC from removing remove state-level restrictions on municipal broadband networks.

What are municipal networks? It’s when a city decides to build infrastructure to provide the local community with its own broadband network service, rather than people having to rely solely on private companies.

The amendment is a part of the Financial Services appropriations bill and was approved by the House of Representatives and would have to be approved by the Senate and then signed by President Obama. It is unlikely Obama will sign it as he instated FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who is pushing for more municipal broadband networks.

“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,” Wheeler said in a meeting of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association in April.

At the meeting, Wheeler mentioned this push for municipal broadband is to drive investment and encourage broadband providers to upgrade their services.

A large part of this push for municipal networks comes because these networks can and are providing faster speeds than private companies. To put things in perspective, Internet speeds in Chattanooga, which offers public broadband to its community, reach up to 1 gigabit per second, which is 10 to 100 times faster than the rest of the U.S. at similar costs compared to companies such as AT&T or Comcast, according to Chattanooga’s Times Free Press.

Unsurprisingly, these telecommunications companies are heavily lobbying against municipal broadband networks, as it would only add competition to their businesses.

The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) sent a letter to the FCC chairman saying that they won’t allow action preempting state laws on municipal broadband. Members of the NCSL include state senators such as Richard Moore, Mass., Michael Adams, Va., and Elsie Arntzen, Mont., as well as executives from Comcast and AT&T.

The cost of installing fiber-optic networks is an argument against it. It cost Chattanooga $330 million to build its network, but it raised $220 million in bond money and won $111.5 million in federal stimulus dollars.

The FCC certainly is in a predicament with heavy opposition from large networks and House Republicans, but if perhaps the threat of competition may push networks to upgrade their services.