Booker to Introduce Bill Backing Muni Broadband

Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) is introducing a bill Thursday that would prevent state laws that limit the build-out of municipal broadband networks.

His office confirmed a report in the Washington Post that the bill would be introduced Jan. 22 and was intended to "empower local communities to get broadband access."

The senator signaled Wednesday (Jan. 21) that he was passionate about the issue. During a hearing on network neutrality in the Senate Commerce Committee, he pressed a representative from the Multicultural, Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC) over the issue, saying a new open Internet bill would strip the FCC of its ability to preempt state laws limiting municipal broadband.

Booker, himself a former mayor, said the Republican-backed draft would "eviscerate" the FCC's authority and that such a move would be unconscionable given that city build-outs were providing affordable broadband in areas with large minority populations.

The bill would "clarify" that Sec. 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 is not a grant of authority. That section says the FCC can regulate to insure that advanced communications is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion. It has used its  recent findings that such deployment is not reasonable and timely to buttress moves like migrating the Universal Service Fund from phone to broadband and possibly preempting state laws.

The FCC currently has two petitions before it from Chattanooga and Wilson, N.C., to preempt and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled a vote on those next month, almost certainly granting the petitions.

At the hearing, Booker said he was waiting on those decisions, which he suggested would be a response to incumbent "goliaths" backing state laws attempting to limit the Chattanooga and Wilson efforts to provide better and cheaper access to high minority populations. He said the draft would remove the FCC's ability to lift those barriers.

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice praised the move. "Senator Booker has been a great champion of local communities, both as a longtime mayor and now as a member of Congress," it said in a statement. "As a former mayor, he clearly understands the importance of local decision-making regarding critical economic development infrastructure. CLIC applauds Senator Booker for his affirmation of local Internet choice and his support for the authority of local governments to work on next generation broadband networks with their private partners and local communities."

Booker's bill is unlikely to get traction in the Republican-controlled Senate or House.

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.