Administration to FCC: Communities Need Flexibility to Fill Broadband Needs

As advertised, the Obama administration has sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in support of municipal broadband, but it was a more measured advisory than the one the President had telegraphed, saying that communities building and operating their own infrastructure is not always the or even "typically" the best solution for meeting a community's broadband needs.

The letter, from National Telecommunications & Information Administration chief Lawrence Strickling, the President's chief telecom policy adviser, does not offer the FCC explicit support for preempting state laws that limit municipal broadband buildouts, but it does lay a case out for the importance of local government-supported broadband "in cases where existing providers are not meeting a community's needs," and says cities flexibility should not be limited.

To that extent it does not go as far as the President did in his speech on high-speed broadband this week. The President said that in many places incumbent ISPs are "doing everything they can" to "stamp out" competition. He said "enough is enough," and called on the FCC to do whatever it could to push back on those laws."

Strickling said that municipal broadband is not always or even "typically" the best solution for a community, "particularly where existing service providers are willing and able to meet a communities evolving needs." The devil is in the details of the definition of that phrase, but it it far from the President's strong, anti-incumbent rhetoric.

The closest he got to criticizing incumbents was saying that "allowing communities to consider and leverage a full range of options allows for communities to most efficiently and successfully meet the needs of their citizens. Such flexibility should be encouraged, not limited."

"The Administration urges the FCC to ensure that communities have the tools necessary to satisfy their citizens' demand for broadband," Strickling concluded.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.