Democrats Want Action On Municipal Broadband

Some House and Senate Democrats are urging Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler to preempt state regs limiting municipal broadband.

Wheeler has said that is his plan, but the legislators are making sure he, and others, know they have his back and are looking for action.

"We are pleased by your recent comments about community broadband, particularly your assertion that municipal governments should not be inhibited if they wish to pursue the creation of their own networks," the legislators wrote, telling him to use the FCC's "full arsenal" of tools to promote competition.

And they want to hear a game plan sooner than later, asking Wheeler to respond within 30 days on "what plans the Commission intends to pursue to make progress on community broadband."

Wheeler has taken aim at laws limiting municipal broadband, laws he says are the work of competitive broadband providers trying to protect their turf. Those providers counter that they shouldn't have to be competing with government-subsidized competitors in areas where they are already providing service.

He had signaled some action might be coming on that front in May, but said two weeks ago the commission was still weighing its options. He added that the FCC was "obviously highly sensitive" to input from Congress.

He has already heard from Republicans. Three weeks ago he got a letter from almost a dozen Republican senators including Ted Cruz (Texas) and Marco Rubio (Fla.) warning against "usurping" state laws.

“Communities are often best suited to decide for themselves if they want to invest in their own infrastructure and to choose the approach that will best work for them,” the Democratic lawmakers said. “Accordingly, local communities should have the opportunity to decide for themselves how to invest in their own infrastructure, including the options of working with willing incumbent carriers, creating incentives for private sector development, entering into creative public-private partnerships, or even building their own networks, if necessary or appropriate.”

Signing on to the letter were Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), as well as Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), ranking members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee and Communications Subcommittee, respectively, and Committee member Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.).

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.