FCC To Vote Chattanooga, Wilson Petitions on Feb. 26

A source confirms that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler plans to put an order resolving two petitions to preempt state laws limiting municipal broadband on the Feb. 26 meeting agenda, according to a source. He is likely to have three votes for granting the petitions and preempting the laws.

“High-speed Internet access is a fundamental part of our daily lives at home, on the job and at school," the chairman said in an e-mailed statement. "Where fast broadband is available to some, there are far too many parts of the country, particularly rural America, that are being left further and further behind. Many other Americans lack competitive choices for broadband.  The FCC has been working diligently to expand broadband deployment and increase consumer choice and competition nationwide, including preparing to respond to complaints from cities that have been prohibited from providing competitive high-speed alternatives.”

That news comes the same day the administration is sending a letter to Wheeler "urging it to join this effort [to promote high-speed broadband] by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens."

Those barriers, the White House has made clear, includes the 19 states--some say more--with laws limiting municipal broadband buildouts.

The letter is in some ways preaching to the choir. Wheeler has already signaled that he thinks the FCC should use its preemption authority to clear away state laws he sees as incumbent ISP-backed efforts to prevent competition.

Those ISPs argue the government should not be subsidizing their competitors, and point to examples of cities who failed at building out networks and left taxpayers to pay for those miscalculations. Then there is the ISPs' point about not being able to make a business case for pricing their service competitively with a subsidized entrant.

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.