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Blackburn Bill Would Block FCC Preemption

A bill that would block any funding to an FCC effort to preempt state laws limiting municipal broadband was offered on the House floor late Tuesday as an amendment to H.R. 5016, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act.

A roll call vote on the amendment, introduced by Communications Subcommittee member Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was postponed, but it initially appeared to have enough votes for passage.

Blackburn said unelected bureaucrats at the FCC should not be allowed to trump states rights and tell them how to spend their money. She said it was deeply troubling that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler had repeatedly signaled he wanted to preempt state laws that hampered the rollout of municipal broadband. Wheeler has argued that those laws were the result of incumbent broadband providers using their lobbying muscle--he used to be one of those himself as president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association--to try to block competition.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), who rose in opposition to the amendment, agreed with Wheeler, saying that the issue is about allowing cities to operate without cable company lobbyists stopping them.

He said the amendment was an attack on individual rights of citizens speaking through their local leaders. "This is to stop states from states from choking grassroots competition," he said.

Blackburn pointed out that she and 59 of her colleagues in June had expressed their concerns about state preemption and asked Chairman Wheeler for some answers, which she said they were still waiting for, as were her colleagues in the Senate who had also reached out to the chairman. She suggested that while Wheeler wanted to tell states what to do, he would not respond to Congress.

She said preemption assumes Washington knows best and she "would not sit idly by and let an independent agency trample on states’ rights."

Serrano said preemption was about making sure broadband infrastructure was available everywhere, in every possible place, rural and inner city, homes and schools.