Proposed bill will let cities build broadband networks

A trio of Democratic Senators has developed a new bill called the Community Broadband Act that is designed to overturn existing state laws that ban or restrict cities and towns from building their own broadband networks. The bill was jointly developed by Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Edward Markey (D-MA) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO).

This proposed legislation emerges after President Barack Obama sent a letter to the FCC  to help it overturn 19 existing laws that make it challenging for municipalities to offer competitive Internet services even if the local incumbent telco and cable operator won't offer higher speed services themselves.

"No statute, regulation, or other legal requirement of a State or local government may prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting or substantially inhibiting, any public provider from providing telecommunications service or advanced telecommunications capability or services to any person or any public or private entity," the bill says.

Markey said in a statement that the bill will give each town and city the ability, particularly those in rural areas where there is limited service choices, to decide if they want to build a network or not.

"Barriers at the state level are preventing communities from developing local solutions when there is little or no choice in their Internet service provider," Markey said in the senators' announcement. "This legislation will support the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks and provide community members with high speed Internet service."

This bill will face an uphill battle against a Republican-dominated Congress, which is opposed to tampering with state and local laws while protecting the interests of large telcos and cable operators such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

At the same time, the FCC is looking at whether it could preempt state laws to drive new broadband deployment. In February, the FCC will vote 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.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has also been an ardent supporter of municipal broadband networks. In May, Wheeler made a call to challenge more than 20 state laws that prevent or discourage municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

However, Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said that the president's speech and call to overturn the state laws is "unnecessary interference."

For more:
- Ars Technica has this article

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