FCC to draft proposal to overturn anti-municipal broadband [telecom]

FCC to draft proposal to overturn anti-municipal broadband laws in Tennessee, North Carolina

By Sean Buckley, FierceCable, February 2, 2015

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is gearing up for a battle with state legislators in Tennessee and North Carolina with plans to circulate a draft decision to overturn anti-municipal broadband laws in both states, reports The Washington Post, citing a senior agency official.

Wheeler could provide a copy of a draft of his proposal to other FCC commissioners possibly today and then vote on the issue at its public meeting on Feb. 26.


If the commission votes to approve the issue, the FCC would overturn state laws that have inhibited municipal providers like EPB in Chattanooga, Tenn., and other providers in Wilson, N.C., from either building their own networks or expanding their reach to compete with incumbent telcos and cable operators like Verizon and Comcast.

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Back in my cable TV days, this same issue occasionally came up. Many cities owned and operated their own cable TV systems presumably in competition with commercial cable companies. But, at least in most of the cases I'm familiar with, the city built its own system because no commercial company was interested. This seemed to be particularly common in Minnesota -- examples that come to mind are Elbow Lake, Jackson, Pipestone, Windom, and Worthington.

These cities also owned and operated their own electric power utilities, including the poles that supported the distribution networks. A city-owned cable TV network using the same poles would not have to pay pole-attachment fees, thus giving it a significant price advantage vis-a-vis a commercial cable company.

Back in the 1990s I did some consulting work for the Jackson system. I wrote about it last year in a T-D post:

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The FierceCable article mentions that "Minnesota's HF 2695 explicitly bars any community from building a broadband network to serve their needs." Presumably this law would prevent the City of Jackson from building its own fiber network.

FCC Chairman Wheeler seems to have changed his mind about such laws since he was president of the NCTA. Even though I'm a former employee of some big-name cable TV companies (Comcast, Warner, TCI), I must agree with Wheeler.

Neal McLain

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Neal McLain
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