AES [TD V24:373] responded:
Local governments have very limited control over content provided by telecommunications networks placed on their rights of way.
Under our system of law, property law is the province of state governments, but interstate commerce law is vested in the Congress. Congress has determined, and numerous court decisions have confirmed, that content carried by telecommunications (telco and CATV) networks falls within the meaning of interstate commerce.
Since my background is in CATV, I'll cite how this situation has affected the CATV industry, and leave it to other readers to cite how it's affected telcos.
Federal law does give local governments the right to "manage" rights of way used by CATV, but exactly what "manage" means has been a source of much controversy.
Some matters indisputably fall within the meaning of "managing":
- Determination of the physical location of facilities within the ROW (aerial or buried; distance from edge of ROW; depth of burial; location of utility poles; restrictions against new poles; etc.).
- Permitting and inspection of work, including restoration of work areas to "as was" condition.
- Traffic control in work areas.
- Maintenance of public records and system maps related to the CATV company.
- Imposition and collection of fees based on actual services rendered, such as permit fees, inspection fees, utilities, reimbursement for employee time/overtime, etc.
However, under to federal law, content-related matters do not fall within the meaning of "managing."
- Local governments may not exercise control over video programming offered by any CATV, except for PEG access channels specifically authorized by federal law. This limitation is rooted in FCC and federal court decisions dating back to the 1950s and 60s holding that CATVs are not common carriers because they alone select the content carried over their networks [1,2]. Subsequent court decisions have affirmed that such content selection constitutes "speech" protected by the First Amendment . This policy has always been, and continues to be, controversial [4-7].
- Local governments may not exercise control over "Title II telecommunications services" (including ISP access) offered by any CATV. This limitation follows directly from the Communications Act of1996 , and was recently confirmed by the Supreme Court in the "Brand X" decision . Nevertheless, this policy continues to be controversial [10,11].
PAT [TD V24:373] added:
Huh? I was in the CATV business for 25 years, and I never heard anybody claim that municipal ROW was "not publicly owned."
The right of a franchised CATV operator to occupy land stems from three sources:
FRANCHISE AGREEMENT. A franchise agreement grants a CATV company the right to occupy (install and maintain its facilities on) ROW owned by the (one or more) municipal and/or county government(s) that constitute the LFA (local franchising authority). But a franchise does not grant the right to occupy:
- Other government property (as parks, recreation facilities, schools, government buildings, etc.) unless specifically so stated in the franchise agreement).
- Property owned by any municipal or county government that is not a constituent government of the LFA.
- Property owned by any separate governmental entity (federal or state government; school district; public college or university, etc.).
- Railroad ROW.
- Private property.
PRE-EXISTING RECORDED UTILITY EASEMENT. Franchised CATV operators have a federal right to occupy existing recorded utility easements "which have been dedicated for compatible uses" . Many states also have similar provisions; for example, Texas .
NEGOTIATED EASEMENT or PERMIT. If a CATV company wishes to occupy any property not covered by a franchise agreement or by an existing recorded utility easement, it must negotiate a separate easement or permit with the property owner.
PAT's statement that
"But what the cableco will _claim_ is that the 'right of way' is not publicly owned ..."
mystifies me. If PAT is referring to property owned by the LFA (or a constituent government of an LFA), then I don't agree with his statement. If he's referring to property owned by any other entity, then he's right: the CATV will indeed, and correctly, claim that the ROW is not owned by the LFA (or a constituent government of the LFA).
----- references ----- Federal Communications Commission. "Frontier Broadcasting v. Collier" (determining that CATV systems are not common carriers). 24 FCC 251, 1958. Cited in Mary Alice Mayer Phillips, "CATV: A History of Community Antenna Television." Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1972, 51-52.  United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. "Philadelphia Television Broadcasting Co. v. FCC" (affirming "Frontier"). 359 F. 2d 282, 1966. Cited in Phillips, 56.  Thompson-Findlaw. Annotations to the U.S. Constitution, First Amendment, "Governmental Regulation of Communications Industries," "Regulation of Cable Television."  Fred H. Cate. "The First Amendment and Compulsory Access to Cable Television." Evanston: Northwestern University, n.d.  Thomas W. Hazlett. "Let's Regulate Cable Now!" New York: The Manhattan Institute, October 1998.  Thomas W. Hazlett. "Regulation," "Wiring the Constitution for Cable." Washington: The Cato Institute, n.d.  Andrew Glass. "Cable TV indecency." The Hill, February 8, 2005.  47 U.S.C. 541(b)(3).  Supreme Court of the United States. "National Cable & Telecommunications Association et al. v. Brand X Internet Services et al."  Yuki Noguchi. "Cable Firms Don't Have to Share Networks, Court Rules." The Washington Post, June 28, 2005, D01.  Consumers Union. "Statement of Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America on the Supreme Court's Decision to Grant Cert in the Brand X Case." December 2004.  47 U.S.C. 541(a)(2). The term "compatible uses" is usually construed to mean easements dedicated for electric power and/or telephone facilities.  Texas Utilities Code 181.101 - 181.104. Neal McLain