While it was not the most significant -- and certainly not the most controversial -- part of today's actions, the FCC's decision to pre-empt state laws regarding municipal networks in North Carolina and Tennessee is likely to unleash a flood of petitions by municipalities in other states looking to address local demand for broadband.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's 3-2 approval of state pre-emption was prompted by separate petitions filed by municipally owned utilities in the cities of Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn. -- both cities that have established high-speed, gigabit Internet services, but have been barred from expanding to neighboring, underserved communities outside their footprints due to existing state laws. (See Muni Utilities Take Gigabit Fight to FCC and The Municipal Menace?)
The FCC bases its authority to pre-empt state law on Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act: "There is a clear conflict, the Order finds, between Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which directs the FCC to take action to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition, and provisions of the Tennessee and North Carolina law that erect barriers to expansion of service into surrounding communities, including unserved and underserved areas," the Commission said in its order.
Telecom service providers, which generally oppose municipal broadband intrusion, were largely too consumed with the implications of the FCC's net neutrality ruling today to voice their opinions about the municipal network order. (See FCC Adopts Title II Rules .)
But the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) , which represents technology developers that sell not only to commercial service providers but also municipalities, toed the line by applauding the municipal networks ruling.
“Municipalities should be able to assure local access to high-speed connectivity, especially in locations where private sector alternatives are not available," said TIA CEO Scott Belcher in a statement. "High-speed Internet offers tremendous social and economic benefits, and today's action will help municipalities pursue needed broadband solutions and shrink the digital divide.”
Organizations backing the interests of municipal broadband predictably applauded the decision. Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities -- which recently coordinated a letter to the FCC from mayors and elected officials of 38 communities urging the FCC to "respect the principles of local choice and self-determination" -- said she expects more cities to file petitions challenging their states' laws.
"I think there's a realization that we have a lot of Americans without adequate service, and that's impacting economic development, education and public safety," Socia tells Light Reading. She was quick to point out, however, that cities wouldn't need to address the broadband needs of their residents if the telecom industry would do so more thoroughly.
"For the vast majority of our cities, this is not something they want to be doing," Socia says. "If the market took care of this problem, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, Light Reading