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FCC Asked to Remove State Restrictions on Cable Competition

30 Jul, 2014 By: Doug McPherson

MINNEAPOLIS – Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., have filed petitions to ask the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove state restrictions on cable competition.

The petitions seek to remove state laws that restrict the two cities’ ability to offer services outside of their territories – restrictions their rivals don’t have. Both states passed restrictions on community-owned networks following lobbying campaigns by Time Warner Cable, Comcast and AT&T.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), an authority on building community networks that tracks more than 400 municipal networks across the country, is helping lead the effort. Christopher Mitchell, a director at ILSR, says the petitions cut “right to the heart of local authority” and that the “ultimate question is who decides what investments are right for each community – individual communities or officials far removed.”

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has all but publicly invited such petitions to encourage new investment and competition in the industry. And Wheeler has reportedly vowed to invalidate any state restrictions on municipal broadband as part of a package for new net neutrality regulations.

“I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so,” Wheeler wrote in a June blog post.

But opposition is fierce. The National Conference of State Legislatures sent a letter to Wheeler, which reads (in part): “As you consider your course of action on this matter, we encourage you to heed the principles of federalism and caution you of the numerous decisions by the United States Supreme Court with regard to the relationship between the state and its political subdivisions.”

The group adds a threat to sue the FCC “for enacting rules that would diminish the duly adopted laws of the impacted states or prevent additional states from exercising their well-established rights to govern in the best interests of the voters.”

The NCSL says any FCC attempt to nix state regulations regarding broadband “disregards the countless hours of deliberation and votes cast by locally elected lawmakers across the country and supplants it with the impulses of a five-member appointed body in Washington, D.C.”

Yet organizations representing cities and counties are applauding Wheeler’s plan to trump state restrictions, and a group of Democratic lawmakers sent Wheeler a letter praising efforts for more community broadband. Those Democrats have also asked Wheeler to present a specific plan for community broadband this week.

If the FCC agrees with the petitions, the big cable companies will almost certainly appeal it to the D.C. Circuit Court, where a recent Verizon v. FCC opinion specifically noted that this type of action is well within its authority.

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