Today, in addition to reclassifying broadband from an “information service” to a “telecommunication service,” the Federal Communications Commission voted to preempt state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that previously restricted municipal governments from expanding their broadband services and competing with commercial Internet service providers in surrounding areas. The decision was not a surprise, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been talking about preempting such state laws for over a year.
There are at least 19 states with laws that restrict or limit municipal broadband. Just last month, Missouri lawmakers proposed strengthening existing restrictions in their state. Today’s decision only applied to the two specific petitions filed with the FCC—one from The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a second from the city Wilson, North Carolina—but it may set a precedent that encourages other municipalities to submit petitions. In the meeting, Wheeler said, “I do hope, however, that this attention…calls out the activities of incumbents to block consumer choice and competition through legislation.”
Many other cities, fed up with the speeds and prices offered by the commercial Internet service providers in their areas have also tried to provide broadband to citizens directly. But it’s not always easy. In many cases, there’s already a commercial ISP that doesn’t welcome competition. For those who support municipal broadband, more competition is exactly the point. “You can’t say you’re for competition, but deny local elected officials the right to offer competitive choices,” Wheeler said in the meeting.
An important piece about the "other" — and probably more significant — decision from Thursday at the FCC, on opening up broadband competition through municipalities.