FCC's Clyburn blasts anti-municipal broadband legislation

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is no fan of state legislatures that are trying to limit the abilities of towns and cities to install and manage their own high-speed networks, something she confirmed in a statement released yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission.

Specifically citing the "Level Playing Field/Local Government Competition" bill recently passed by the North Carolina House and currently up for debate by the state Senate, Clyburn said, "This piece of legislation certainly sounds goal-worthy, an innocuous proposition, but do not let the title fool you. This measure, if enacted, will not only fail to level the playing field; it will discourage municipal governments from addressing deployment in communities where the private sector has failed to meet broadband service needs. In other words, it will be a significant barrier to broadband deployment and may impede local efforts to promote economic development."

Clyburn's comments are an unusual step for the FCC. "...while the FCC has, in the past, made general statements and policies in support of publicly owned broadband networks, you don't often see an FCC commissioner speak out strongly against a specific bill in a specific state while there is still time to defeat it," said Ed Gubbins, Senior Analyst at New Paradigm Resources Group, in an interview with FierceTelecom.

Clyburn's statement was welcomed by municipal broadband advocates like Craig Settles, a broadband strategist. "Her assessment of what's going on is pretty spot on," he told FierceTelecom. "What we have happening right now is the sugar coated destruction of the democratic process and leading edge broadband in one sweep. It's not just in the Carolinas, it's in a number of states...particularly where legislatures have changed hands to Republican."

But the commissioner's opinion alone may not be enough to stop final passage of the North Carolina bill. The incumbent telcos and cable companies have a strong influence in the state, and taxpayers may balk at initial costs of rolling out a community-managed FTTH service. "The vast majority of taxpayers would rather let private companies make the capital investment and take the risk of deploying broadband," said Gubbins.

"The fact that Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC) pushed for this legislation is such an obvious tip-off to its inherent bias," said Erik Keith, Principal Analyst, Fixed Access Infrastructure, for Current Analysis. "Unfortunately, the cable industry has a long history of lobbying and influencing politicians at all levels to stifle competition."

For more:
- see Commissioner Clyburn's statement (PDF)

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