FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is prepared to roll back restrictions that prevent local governments from deciding if a municipal network would be a wise investment. At the Cable Show Industry conference in Los Angeles, Wheeler told cable industry leaders the FCC will wield its powers to reduce state barriers on municipal networks.
Wheeler spoke before the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) on April 30. These words perked up our ears and those of community networks advocates across the U.S. From a transcript of Wheeler's speech:
"One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. 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."
As our readers remember, a January DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision opened the path for the FCC to take the action Wheeler proposes. Since then, communities have expressed their desire for local authority with resolutions and letters of support. Communities in Michigan and Louisiana, Georgia and Idaho, Illinois, Maryland and Kansas, have shared their resolutions with us. A number of other communities have issued letters of support encouraging action under section 706.
Ars Technica contacted the FCC for more information on Chairman Wheeler's statements. Ars reported:
An FCC spokesperson contacted by Ars said that Wheeler "is not trying to make a distinction between 'ban' or 'limit.' The point is to look at the effect of the law."
The spokesperson said, "We will be taking up this issue in the technology transitions proceedings, and there should be an announcement about this in the next few weeks." It's too early to say "how [Wheeler] will address existing state laws."
As the big companies like Comcast consolidate, enforce bandwidth caps and continuously raise prices, municipal networks are more important than ever. Community owned networks are accountable to the people who use them and put the public good ahead of profit. Community networks are managed in your neighborhood, not in a corner office thousands of miles away.
The content of Wheeler's statement and his choice of venue inspires advocates for publicly owned networks. In order to keep a strong momentum rolling, we encourage you to express your support. The cable and telecommunications lobbyists are already working to prevent the FCC from taking action. When the FCC begins to act, we will want to demonstrate support.