Colorado Towns Pre-empt Pre-empters In Approving Muni Ballot Initiatives

WASHINGTON — Some Colorado communities beat the Federal Communications Commission to the punch on pre-empting state limits to municipal broadband, via last week’s election.

That is according to the Institute for Local Self Reliance, which pointed out that ballot initiatives in five Colorado cities and three counties were approved, “restoring local authority to build fiber networks.”

Colorado is one of the states that passed laws limiting local authority to build the networks, the institute said, but those laws can be trumped by ballot referenda to restore local authority. All of the initiatives passed with at least 60% approval, with most falling in the 70-80% range, even in areas that voted Republican in state races, according to the institute.

The counties taking back their broadband authority were San Miguel, Blanco and Yuma. The cities were the Yuma County towns of Yuma and Wray, as well as Boulder, Cherry Hills Village and Red Cliff.

That was the good news. The bad news, as far as the institute was concerned, was that with Republicans controlling Congress, it was unclear whether they would take steps to further limit local broadband authority.

Hill Democrats and FCC chairman Tom Wheeler have both opposed state laws pre-empting or limiting municipal broadband buildouts.

The FCC has received requests from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to pre-empt state laws restricting their ability to provide broadband service. It is currently considering those petitions.

Analyst: Senate Antitrust Letter A Good Sign for AT&T-DirecTV

WASHINGTON — The “balanced” tone of a letter from the chair and ranking member of the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee struck Guggenhiem Partners analyst Paul Gallant as an encouraging sign for the proposed merger of telco AT&T and satellite-TV provider DirecTV.

In an Oct. 31 letter to Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, committee chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and ranking member Mike Lee (R-Utah) outlined both the potential pros (combining complementary services to produce better bundles of service, building out fixed wireless to 15 million more people and providing stronger competition to cable MVPDs) and cons (reducing the number of competitors from four to three in the 25% of the country where AT&T and DirecTV overlap, limiting access to independent programming — most-favorednation clauses — and uncertainty over whether any program-access conditions are needed, and the possibly increasing cost of the regional sports networks DirecTV owns).

In an advisory to investors, Gallant said the tone of the letter, which does not appear to put a thumb on the scale on either the pro or con side, suggests the deal could be approved with conditions to address those concerns. “[W]e read the balanced tone and extensive discussion of conditions — as opposed to a more skeptical tone — as implicitly helpful for the merger,” he wrote.

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.