FTC Member Backs Muni Broadband

Washington -- Cable and phone companies are relying on “sophistry” in complaining about cities that want to provide high-speed Internet access to their residents, Federal Trade Commission member Jon Leibowitz said Thursday.

In a speech to local government officials, Leibowitz strongly endorsed the provision of broadband access by local governments, saying that it was a legitimate government function akin to providing schools, libraries and electricity.

“Phone and cable companies argue that cities would be incompetent suppliers of broadband. This is mere sophistry. If the companies strongly believed this, they wouldn't be spending tens of millions of dollars lobbying to prevent government-sponsored competition,” Leibowitz said in a speech here to the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.

Dozens of cities are contemplating offering wireless broadband access. But cable and phone companies have been lobbying state governments to ban or limit competition from governmental providers. The FTC estimated that there are 300 municipal broadband projects.

Leibowitz dismissed arguments that the provision of broadband access wasn’t a proper governmental function.

“If [local governments] what to give their residents affordable Internet access, they should be allowed to try without being foreclosed by federal or state laws, or by cable and telephone interests,” he said. “As a matter of public policy, it is just plain wrong to stifle competition in this manner."