FCC commissioners remain divided on municipal broadband issue

The FCC plans to vote in February on petitions filed by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., over whether they should repeal state laws that either prohibit or limit a city or town's ability to build their own broadband networks, but it's clear that the commission's stance on the proposal is anything but equal.

An unnamed FCC official confirmed with The Washington Post that they will vote during their monthly meeting on Feb. 26. on the requests to rework laws that inhibit local municipalities from building broadband networks to compete with established telcos and cable operators like Verizon and Comcast.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who has proposed that 25 Mbps should be the definition of broadband, spoke out in support of President Barack Obama's speech citing the lack of broadband options, particularly in rural areas.

"While 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," Wheeler said in a statement. "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 reviewing complaints from cities that have been prohibited from providing competitive high-speed alternatives."

However, Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said in a separate statement that the president's speech and call to overturn the state laws is "unnecessary interference" with the FCC's leadership.

"Substantively, this missive is completely without statutory authority and would be a good candidate for court review, if adopted," O'Rielly said. "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."

Moving on a vote about the municipal broadband issue comes on the heels of a letter that President Obama sent to the FCC to repeal the 20 state laws on the books that either outright ban building broadband networks or limit a community's move to build its own alternative network.

"If the community decides, 'This is something we want to do,'" said Obama in a speech on municipal broadband Wednesday in Cedar Falls, Iowa, a town that has built its own fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network, "they should be able to do it."

Wheeler said he was "preparing to respond to complaints" from Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., but would not say when he would issue a response.

For more:
- The Washington Post has this article
- The Hill has this article

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