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.