Republicans rail against FCC Chairman Wheeler's municipal-broadband proposals

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's call to rework laws that ban or inhibit growth of municipal broadband networks is facing strong opposition from Republican leaders, who argue that the regulator does not have the authority to meddle with state laws.

During the National Conference of State Legislatures event this week, Matthew Berry, chief of staff to Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai, said that they don't have the authority to invalidate state laws that govern local broadband networks.

He said he supported states' rights to ban or curtail the growth of municipal broadband networks.

"If the history of American politics teaches us anything, it is that one political party will not remain in power for perpetuity. At some point, to quote Sam Cooke, 'a change is gonna come,'" Berry said, according to an Ars Technica report. "And that change could come a little more than two years from now. So those who are potential supporters of the current FCC interpreting Section 706 [of the Telecommunications Act] to give the Commission the authority to preempt state laws about municipal broadband should think long and hard about what a future FCC might do with that power."

Today, 20 states have laws that either limit or ban cities and towns from building their own networks to offer broadband service that would compete with incumbent telcos and cable operators such as AT&T (NYSE: T), CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

Wheeler has maintained that Section 706 of the 1996 Telecom Act gives the FCC the ability to drive competition in local markets by eliminating investment barriers and can "preempt laws that prevent cities and towns from creating their own broadband networks that compete against private companies."

Chattanooga, Tenn.'s Electric Power Board (EPB) and the city of Wilson, NC, neither of which can expand its broadband network because of current state laws, filed petitions asking the commission to give them more freedom to operate their networks.

EPB has built a municipal broadband network that can deliver 1 Gbps-based fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) services, but a state law prohibits it from expanding outside of its existing service area.

For more:
- Ars Technica has this article

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