FCC's Sohn Urges Cities to Build Own Broadband

Gigi Sohn, top counselor to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, urged a group of government officials in San Diego this week to start building out the broadband service they wanted, rather than waiting for commercial ISPs to do it.

In a speech to the annual conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), Sohn put in a big plug for municipal broadband buildouts.

"Without question, the landscape is changing for local governments," she said. "Most significantly, the future is not in cable, but in broadband," adding: "Even the cable operators acknowledge this... Rather than wait for incumbent ISPs to build the network your cities want and need, you can take control of your own broadband futures."

Sohn was a big backer of the FCC's decision to preempt state laws limiting buildouts of already-authorized municipal service in Tennessee and North Carolina.

She also told a fiber-to-the-home conference in California in July that the FCC was ready to step in to preempt any more state laws that hampered municipal fiber buildouts and would give cities money to build them if the big telecom companies don't step up.

Sohn told NATOA that rather than viewing themselves as taxers and regulators, her audience should see themselves instead as facilitators of the kind of service they have been "begging" incumbents to provide "for years."

The FCC has arguably helped with that shift from cable-centric taxers and regulators by earlier this year flipping the presumption that there is no effective cable competition in local markets, instead presuming there is and lifting rate regulations unless a local franchise authority or other party can demonstrate otherwise.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association had no comment.

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.