Cities Clamor for More Clout at FCC

The rules of broadband are changing, and local governments want a say in how they evolve.

In an ex parte filing last week with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) , several municipal officials, along with a representative of the National League of Cities , outlined a recent meeting with Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and a member of her legal staff. The city officials voiced their concern that the newly formed Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) is lacking in representation from local municipal governments, and that industry executives and advisors make up an overwhelming proportion of the committee's membership.

According to the letter, the officials "encouraged the Commission to work in the direction of partnership with, rather than preemption of, local officials, who share the Commission's goal of closing the digital divide."

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai formed the BDAC in April in an effort to accelerate broadband deployments across the country. One of the primary goals of the group is to find a way to ease the process that allows service providers to install network equipment at city-owned sites.

Both city officials and service providers want to streamline current practices, but the two sides have different priorities and objectives in mind. ISPs want to get infrastructure in place as quickly as possible to support advanced networking services that bring in more revenue. Cities want to improve connectivity for their residents, but they also want to minimize the disruption of construction work and increase the income flowing into city coffers from site-leasing agreements. (See Broadband Has a Problem on the Pole.)

On the FCC committee, there is currently only one local government official, along with representatives from two state government offices. In contrast, there are numerous members representing the telecom industry. (See FCC Names BDAC Members, Sets 1st Meeting.)

The National League of Cities notes that more local representatives have been appointed to BDAC working groups of late, but the organization argues that working group participation isn't enough and that the Commission should "increase the number and diversity of local officials on the BDAC to a level comparable with the number and diversity of industry officials."

For more broadband market coverage and insights, check out our dedicated gigabit/broadband content channel here on Light Reading.

The work of the BDAC takes on particular significance because of the new relationships developing between cities and telecom companies as they lay the foundation for 5G networks and future smart cities. The rules put in place over the next couple of years could have a major impact on how advanced networks are deployed and how they're controlled at the local level.

Concerns by cities also come as there is a growing tug of war underway between state and local authorities and the federal government over how existing broadband services are governed. The FCC recently rolled back broadband privacy regulations that were scheduled to come into effect this year, but individual states and cities are now enacting their own laws to reinstate those rules on a local level. FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly is hoping to preempt those efforts. (See also FCC Net Neutrality Backlash Begins.)

On the reverse side, the current FCC leadership is in favor of state-based jurisdiction when it comes to enacting laws that block municipal ISPs from deploying broadband services. Under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Commission tried to knock down those laws, but was unsuccessful when the courts ruled that state governments, not the FCC, have authority in the matter.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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kq4ym 6/8/2017 | 8:19:28 AM
Re: Get to the bottom of this It would seem that companies are going to probably get their lobbyists into the rule maker's offices much better than municipalities under the current political situation and philosophy. So, it would seem the cities do have a legitimate concern. But, whether they'll be able to get rules in their favor would seem unlikely for the next several years.
Joe Stanganelli 5/28/2017 | 6:45:00 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this @brooks7:

While I agree with you with your primary/general point on entertainment...

> How much do you want to pay so that your neighbor can watch more porn?  Statistically that is the reality of the residential market.

Absent some hard data (and if anyone has a source one way or the other here, I welcome it), I'm not so sure that it's adult entertainment driving this all anymore -- in this age of Netflix binge-athons.  Serial dramas and John Oliver videos are just as likely -- if not more likely -- to be eating up neighborhood bandwidth as/than the neighborhood porn addict.
brooks7 5/26/2017 | 9:18:15 AM
Re: Get to the bottom of this The reason I declare that you are whining is that you are asking other's to act against their own interest.  When you ask 3rd parties to change their behavior because it suits the way that you view the world and do so consistently, that is not a way to affect change.  You are asking politicians to not take lobbying money and your premise is that this will work.  Good luck with that.

It is not cynical to presume that the status quo is the logical conclusion of the market, it has been demonstrated by years of reality.  The problem with building other networks is that there is billions of dollars that has to be invested for a total market size that is not growing.  It is economically inefficient to do this.  That is why the market has not done it.  For cities themselves to do it is also inefficient.  Why spend the capital, hire the people, tax the residents for an outcome in residential broadband?  You can achieve the same impact by essentially the old regulatory paradigm that mandated service and controlled costs. 

The comparison to other infrastructure is really bad for this business.  Residential use is primarily entertainment and the growth in bandwidth required is around this.  How much do you want to pay so that your neighbor can watch more porn?  Statistically that is the reality of the residential market. 

And none of this helps the business end of the market.  If you are a smaller business in a building, the first person to bring fiber to that building gets the vast bulk of the buisness.  This means for many buildings the second competitor doesn't show up, as it makes no sense to do so.  Muni networks don't address this in bulk.  Often time this is left to tiny WISPs.  In the days of copper, there were UNE-L CLECs that could kind of compete.  But this is dying rather rapidly in the world, because once fiber hits an area UNE-L CLECs lose business rapidly. 

Finally, we have existence proof of how these muni networks work in the IOCs.  As the tap gets turned off on USF, they are scrambling for funding.  The Co-ops will have to go back to the cities to raise taxes to allow them to deliver phone service.  All of that is why we need to regulate the market as it stands and move on.


mendyk 5/25/2017 | 4:40:22 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Even if the tumblers all clicked into place and regulations were eased to open the way to more competitors, where would the competition come from?
KBode 5/25/2017 | 2:27:26 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this I find that position too cynical, and I find your inference that I'm "whining" condescending.  There's plenty we could do to fix the market, starting with not letting AT&T and Comcast write abysmal, anti-competitive state telecommunications law.
brooks7 5/25/2017 | 2:16:25 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Kb,

There is nothing that is going to change in the Residential Broadband Market.  You can whine about it forever, but there is nothing that has happened in the last 15 - 20 years to make this different.

So instead of demanding that other companies enter a commodity market as the number 3 entrant, spend a huge amount of capital to get to a 10% market share that nobody will fund, regulate the environment assuming that it is a monopoly or duopoly.


Duh! 5/25/2017 | 10:48:42 AM
Re: Get to the bottom of this In this case, it's the municipalites that are blocking new entrants (and slowing down the incumbents). Permitting delays, excessive fees, unreasonable demands and constraints, NIMBY-ism. 

Your'e right that the state-wide barriers to municipal entry are not on the table. I imagine that they are the elephant in the room.
KBode 5/25/2017 | 9:47:44 AM
Re: Get to the bottom of this "You can understand their concern: if you're not at the table, you're on the menu."


Damn straight Anybody that thinks the current FCC actually cares all that much about the end consumer (especially given Pai's voting record across numerous subjects) has fooled themselves, or let someone else fool them. There's a very good reason local communties aren't on this deployment panel: they might actually point out the horrible lack of competition in the residential broadband market, forcing somebody to actually do something about it. 
KBode 5/25/2017 | 9:45:56 AM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Also, keep in mind that the current FCC thinks it's a matter of "states rights" when states let AT&T write protectionist state laws hamstringing competitors, but it should be outlawed when those same states move to protect consumer broadband privacy in the wake of the GOP demolition of the FCC's broadband privacy rules. 
Joe Stanganelli 5/24/2017 | 11:38:32 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Indeed.  Lawyers who are bad people and lawyers who are good people.  Nurses who are good people and nurses who are bad people.  And so on.

Of course, with politics, there is that adage about "absolute power corrupts absolutely," but, well, let's keep things on the bright side.
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