Mediacom, O’Rielly Vent over President’s Preemption Speech

Industry players and policymakers were quick to react to the President's speech in Iowa promoting municipal broadband and slamming other ISPs over price and service.

The American Cable Association praised the President, but one of its high-profile members saw it quite differently.

This from Rocco Commisso, the CEO of Mediacom:  “I think it is fair to say that the only reason the vast majority of Iowans are able to enjoy broadband speeds that are significantly faster than dial-up, DSL or cellular 3G and 4G service, for that matter, is because Mediacom has honored its commitment made 15 years ago. At a time when no one else was willing to spend the money, we promised to take the necessary risks to ensure that the citizens of Iowa were not mere bystanders in the digital revolution, but active participants in the broadband economy.  Mediacom has enriched the lives of Iowans and provided fertile ground for businesses, large and small, to prosper and grow.

“I mean no disrespect to the President,” Commisso continued, “but traveling to Iowa in order to be a cheerleader for government-owned and taxpayer-funded broadband networks while ignoring the far more significant contributions of Mediacom is an insult to our 1,600 dedicated employees who live and work in Iowa.”

ACA praised the President for highlighting 1 gig offering of Cedar Falls municipal provider Cedar Falls Utilities. also an ACA member, and other municipal systems. "What ties Cedar Falls Utilities, Mediacom and all of these providers together is a drive to give American consumers broadband service that enables them to access entertainment content, exchange social information, and engage in civic debate," said ACA. "Consumers consider this connectivity critical, and ACA members, whether public or private, are responding by investing in innovative services and new infrastructure to make even higher speed service a reality."

ACA suggested that municipal nets could work with private ones to advance the President's goals. "To further deployment of high-speed broadband infrastructure throughout the country, we should encourage communities to work to facilitate deployments by private sector providers by finding ways to lower the costs of deployment and accelerate demand, ACA president Matt Polka said.  This teamwork is essential to ensuring that all Americans have this key tool to participate fully in our economy and society.”

Mediacom did not sound in a cooperating mood. "CFU is a municipal utility that leverages its government-conferred monopoly over electric, water and gas service to unfairly compete with private enterprises for cable television and high-speed Internet customers," the company said. The President’s remarks combined with the selection of CFU as the venue for his speech clearly show that the White House wants to waste taxpayer dollars to supplant our Nation’s private sector broadband providers with government-owned utility companies."

USTelecom, which represents AT&T, Verizon and other telecoms, matched the President's strong language with some of its own.

"“The president’s Title II reclassification and state preemption proposals, taken together, call for the federal government to regulate the Internet, and for municipal governments to own the Internet.  If acted upon by the Federal Communications Commission, they would be sweeping exercises of authority – raising constitutional concerns related to separation-of-powers, the scope of an independent agency’s Congressionally delegated authority, and the role of the states in our federal system," said USTelecom president Walter McCormick.. And, how will these expanded government roles be financed? With higher costs to consumers, and new taxes and fees on local  citizens.......AT&T is the nation’s leader when it comes to expansion of gigabit networks, with current plans to cover up to 100 cities and  municipalities. CenturyLink is making gigabit service available in 16 cities. Verizon FiOS led the way on gigabit fiber deployment as the prime mover in this field. And, virtually every member of this association, large and small, urban and rural, is engaged in fiber upgrades.  These positive actions should be encouraged through pro-investment policies, not discouraged through burdensome new regulation and taxpayer  subsidies to duplicative government enterprises.”

Even before the speech, National Cable & Telecommunications Association president Michael Powell was pointing to the private industry's investments in plant and speed.

“The cable industry has invested over $230 billion to build robust broadband networks that reach 93 percent of U.S. homes, said Powell. The President said that access to broadband was not the same as access to broadband at the speeds that will be needed.

"We agree with the President that connecting all Americans to this critical technology should be a national priority," said Powell, "and that is why we have long supported the use of scarce government funding to support universal service in areas where private networks are not economically viable.

“America’s decades-long policy of promoting private investment and exercising a light regulatory touch has yielded substantial benefits for American consumers," he continued. "As evidence, cable’s top broadband speeds have increased over 3200 percent in a decade, Akamai recently reported that 12 American states are among the 20 fastest regions of the world and our markets remain the envy of the world.  While government run networks may be appropriate in rare cases, many such enterprises have ended up in failure, saddling taxpayers with significant long-term financial liabilities and diverting scarce resources from other pressing local needs.

Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly saw the President's broadband push as an unwarranted intrusion in the business of an independent agency.

"It is clear that this Administration doesn’t believe in the independent nature of the FCC. It is disappointing that the Commission’s leadership is without a sufficient backbone to do what is right and reject this blatant and unnecessary interference designed to further a political goal ," he said. "Substantively, this missive is completely without statutory authority and would be a good candidate for court review, if adopted. In reality, this debate is about preempting a state’s right to prevent taxpayer rip-offs. Municipal broadband has never proven to be the panacea that supporters claim and the Administration now boasts. Instead, we have seen a long track record of projects costing more than expected and delivering less than promised."

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association gave the President mixed reviews.

"[NTCA] applauds President Obama’s focus on increasing every American’s access to robust and affordable broadband," the group said. "But it’s not clear that encouraging local governments to get into a very difficult communications business for the first time on their own is the best path to achieve that important goal."

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.