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House of Representatives passes municipal broadband-limiting bill

updated 08:10 am EDT, Thu July 17, 2014

Bill aims to remove FCC regulatory power, seeks to protect 'state rights'

A bill sponsored by US Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has been passed, which aims to strip the Federal Communications Commission's ability to interfere with laws passed to limit municipal broadband networks. Passing 228-195, generally along party lines, the bill, if signed into law, would reinforce strictures that make it difficult in 20 states to offer municipal broadband services in opposition to services provided by for-profit giants like Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable.

Representative Blackburn said of the bill that "we don't need unelected federal agency bureaucrats in Washington telling our states what they can and can't do with respect to protecting their limited taxpayer dollars and private enterprises. As a former state senator from Tennessee, I strongly believe in states' rights. I found it deeply troubling that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly stated that he intends to preempt states' rights when it comes to the role of state policy over municipal broadband."

US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, after speaking with Chattanooga Tennessee mayor Andy Berke - where the city runs its own municipal and profitable broadband program for all residents -- took a hard stance against states' legislation and business deals with cable companies, which often prevent the buildout of municipal broadband even after tax dollars have been spent on such efforts. In a statement after the June meeting, the chairman said in a blog post that he believes "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. Given the opportunity, we will do so."

Not mentioned in Blackburn's bill is how to protect taxpayers from opportunistic "sweetheart" deals given to cable or telecom companies. Also not mentioned, though she pointed out "spectacular failures" of some municipal broadband experiments, is the success of EPB Fiber Optic service, launched in Tennessee -- Blackburn's own state.

Representative Blackburn has accepted nearly $100,000 from the broadcast industry and Internet providers in the last year as campaign contributions. Of these funds, $10,000 came from AT&T, with $7,000 from Time Warner Cable, and $7,500 from Comcast. Verizon topped the list at $12,000.


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By Electronista Staff
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  1. climacs

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 09-06-01

    this is what you get when you vote GOP, people.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    This is what you get when you have campaign finance laws like we do.

    Saying the Democrats are any better is like saying that you're getting a good deal after somebody crams a telephone pole up your butt and pulls it out two inches.

  1. Waragainstsleep

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 03-20-04

    Better to have it pulled out two inches then to be held down by a couple of guys while a third one stomps it in there as far as he can.

  1. prl99

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 03-24-09

    This is what happens when supposed state's rights try and trump federal law. Yes, the states are supposed to have some sovereignty but this is supposed to be the "United States of America." As is becoming quite clear lately, we should change our country's name to the "Separate States of America" or better yet, the "We Just Can't Get Along America." The FCC was created to make sure communications systems all got along but as usual, the States don't want to get along, especially those who have no desire to recognize the combined needs of "We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union ..." Even the EU is doing a better job of taking care of multiple countries than the USA. It's an embarrassment how much fighting there is in Washington DC and between the States over such simple things as broadband networks. Limiting a city to only use existing broadband networks limits competition, which I thought was against the law. Shame on me for thinking anyone abides by the law.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Luckily, there is zero chance that President Obama will sign this onerous bill. And at least those who authored it and voted for it have revealed themselves as bought-and-paid-for by the cable companies. Millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars have already been wasted on buildouts that are not being used or go "dark" because of shady backroom deals with the big carriers to prevent citizens from choosing to create their own broadband municipal networks. It's outrageous that these sellout reps can even talk about this bill with a straight face.

  1. jfgilbert

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-19-10

    How can this person claim to "represent" her constituents?

  1. pairof9s

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 01-03-08

    I said it many years ago...the true money barons of the internet will be the gatekeepers, those who own the pipes leading to the public's consumption. It doesn't matter (except for their politics) which party this falls under or what method is used, these corporations will get their agenda thru...it's literally worth millions to them as such.

  1. garmonbosia

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-19-02

    @EstaNightshift---- Sorry but saying both sides are the same is just intellectually lazy. Who do you think created the campaign laws? The Democrats (along with one Republican) passed laws to limit money in politics. The Republicans have been working to undermine them ever since. And now the Republican supreme court has completely made up new law to try to make all money limits illegal. So if your concern is too much money in politics then you should join with climacs and only vote for Democrats and keep doing it until the only way to survive as a Republican is to start representing their constituents instead of the Koch Bros.

  1. prl99

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 03-24-09

    Originally Posted by jfgilbertView Post

    How can this person claim to "represent" her constituents?



    Easily, because her constituents are the broadcast industry and internet providers. The politicians who actually represent you and me don't last long in Congress because we don't pay them enough to represent our views. Any attempt to stop the influx of large corporate or private contributions (bribes) has been blocked because these politicians need more money to pay their staff and still have slush fund money to bribe other politicians. Politicians have always taken money so this isn't new. The only difference is it hasn't been so blatantly demonstrated as by this representative.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    Originally Posted by garmonbosiaView Post

    @EstaNightshift---- Sorry but saying both sides are the same is just intellectually lazy. Who do you think created the campaign laws? The Democrats (along with one Republican) passed laws to limit money in politics. The Republicans have been working to undermine them ever since. And now the Republican supreme court has completely made up new law to try to make all money limits illegal. So if your concern is too much money in politics then you should join with climacs and only vote for Democrats and keep doing it until the only way to survive as a Republican is to start representing their constituents instead of the Koch Bros.



    I didn't say they were the same. I said that the democrats have given us a two-inch "good deal."

    Saying that the parties are radically different, and are selfless servants of the people and don't just have their own interests at heart is intellectually lazy.

    Incidentally, relax. I wrote the article, and my disdain was barely controlled. I dislike both sides of the aisle equally.

  1. JustBobF

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-17-14

    Republicans hate government. They think it can do no good, and they get their money from big business. This is totally against the average person. Shame on her!

  1. garmonbosia

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-19-02

    When you wrote this article did you not think to give the readers a little context to this law? This is a push by big telecom to take away the rights of local citizens to create their own pipelines for their own benefit, at the expense of huge corporations. It has zero to do with states rights. It's pure, raw money politics.

    I do appreciate your suggestion that I relax though. I tend to get a little antsy when people shove things up my ass.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    Originally Posted by garmonbosiaView Post

    When you wrote this article did you not think to give the readers a little context to this law? This is a push by big telecom to take away the rights of local citizens to create their own pipelines for their own benefit, at the expense of huge corporations. It has zero to do with states rights. It's pure, raw money politics.



    The bill says nothing about big telecom's "rights" outright. The legislator said nothing about money politics on the floor, but I did in the article. I spelled out who funds her re-election campaigns. Given the facts we've presented, its pretty clear what this is about.

    So, yes, I did think about it. The context is there.

  1. drbroom

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-28-06

    This is why it might be time to get rid of the "House" of 'UN'-Representatives!

    Don't we have the technology NOW, for people like us, who are directly effected by this kind of destructive legislation, to read and vote on bills ourselves? Maybe then companies will have to pay us directly to get our votes?

    The original purpose of the house (the "Peoples House") was so "We the people" could be represented in DC. Since they only represent themselves at this point, isn't it time we take the House back to the people? I mean, can't we do something really substantive with this thing we call the Internet?

  1. chimaera

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 04-08-07

    Originally Posted by drbroomView Post

    Don't we have the technology NOW, for people like us, who are directly effected by this kind of destructive legislation, to read and vote on bills ourselves?



    Yes, I've thought about this too. We could modify the Constitution so citizens from a district could cast their Rep's vote on an issue. If more than half as many citizens vote as did in the Rep's last re-election, then the citizen vote replaces the Rep's vote.

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-01-09

    @chimaera:

    Yes, because we all know how great turnout is these days. I'm sure everyone would want to vote, over and over and over again, on all these bills. (And make no mistake: the response from the House would be to simply increase the number of bills being voted on. None of these bills are actually written by the actual members of the House of Representatives; they are written by industry lobbyists and their think tanks, and handed over to Congress. The same is true in the Senate, incidentally. That's the real reason why Pelosi famously said, in effect, "we have to pass the bill to find out what's in it" — the ACA was written by the insurance companies.)

    A more workable solution would be to insist that the House of Representatives only meet virtually, and that the members have to live within their district continuously, without any travel, for their entire term of office. It would make lobbying a lot more difficult, and also ensure that your Congresscritter had to actually meet its constituents now and again. (It would also be a good security measure; if there's no central meeting point, there's nowhere which can be targeted in the event of a war or terrorist attack.)

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    When you can't beat 'em, legislate to prevent them competing against you.

    I don't know which is more sickening--the craven, underhanded tactics of the big telecoms (which is hardly surprising--really, I'd expect no less), or that congress happily rolls over for their owners, rather than the voters who elected them and whose interests they're supposed to serve.

  1. drbroom

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-28-06

    @The Vicar

    I like your idea too... that said I do think if people cared about a bill enough they would spend a little time (at home) reading it; then once they felt ready send in an up or down vote, again from home. If we could work it that way there wouldn't be a turn out problem. Maybe a bit of an apathy problem on some bills but that would be where the lobbyist come in. They would have to get us interested!

    I work in the infosec world and I am sure if we were allowed we could come up with a secure way to get this done. Yes it would require a change in the constitution but isn't that thing a "living document" (as we have been told by our founding father Thomas Jefferson) so couldn't we the people demand such a change?

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-01-09

    @drbroom:

    Here's what would happen if you implemented direct-votes-as-override: the industry groups would write, say, 25 versions of the same bill, each very slightly different. Every time one was shot down, they would slap a new one in. You might be able to get people to turn out and vote against, say, an end to net neutrality once. Would you be able to get them to turn out once a week for six months? Almost certainly not.

    (And before you express doubts of the ability of industry groups to do that sort of thing: the USA-PATRIOT Act, which gave the government sweeping powers in the wake of 9/11, was just a bunch of recycled stuff from bills which had failed to pass, put together by right-wing think tanks and defense contractors. It took less than 3 days for them to put it together and get it in front of Congress. Most then-members of Congress admit that they didn't bother to read it, they just Had To Pass Something because the public was in such a frenzy*. Imagine how willing to pass junk bills they would be if their corporate sponsors actually had time to tell them to do so?)

    *Which, incidentally, is why the whole "we've been attacked so we have to bomb someone" mindset was so stupid and counterproductive. If it's true that The Terrorists Hate Our Freedoms, then the USA-PATRIOT Act meant that The Terrorists won, because it did away with many of them.

  1. chimaera

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 04-08-07

    @ The Vicar,

    You are shooting down a democratic power we do not even have yet. Even if pressure groups + corrupt politicians did what you say, matters would be no worse than they are now. And they would be much better whenever the citizenry get worked up against a clear power grab.

    I'll stick to my opinion. I'd like a collective power to override corrupt votes. At the very least, an industry bill to stop muni broadband would not have passed today. Even if a lookalike bill passed tomorrow, the battle would still be won today.

  1. The Vicar

    Junior Member

    Joined: 07-01-09

    @chimaera:

    You're also assuming that the voting public — which put a majority of Republicans in the House of Representatives, and is willing to seriously believe that the Democrats are left of center — would overturn corrupt votes. I doubt it — we have Fox News to keep people stupid in this country.

  1. FastiBook

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 02-17-05

    So much for republicans being anti-regulation. Bunch of vile hypocrites.

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