The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering whether to eliminate state laws that prevent the establishment of municipal broadband networks.
Currently, there are laws on the books in 19 states that make it exceedingly difficult or pointless for local governments to establish their own public broadband networks. A law in North Carolina, for example, prevents municipalities from offering broadband for a lower subscription price than the competing private network. The laws are often enacted at the behest of cable industry statehouse lobbyists in order to protect cable companies from competition from public networks.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is drafting a decision expected to be sent to other commissioners early this week, the Washington Post reports. In all likelihood, the proposed regulation will be discussed alongside the commission’s proposed net neutrality rules on February 26.
The FCC’s authority to regulate state laws is based on Section 706 of the Communications Act, which authorizes the FCC to promote competition in the broadband market and remove barriers to creating more broadband infrastructure. As these state laws deprive residents of Internet access that is potentially cheaper and faster than their current offerings, the FCC is well within its mandate.
Meanwhile, experts have hailed municipal broadband as a viable alternative to the private networks of ISP giants such as Time Warner and Comcast. The FCC’s attention to the plight of municipal broadband appears to be a response to President’s Obama’s letter to the FCC just two weeks ago on this topic.