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."

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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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Jim_Jackson 5/24/2017 | 9:27:16 PM
No Explanation for Blocking Muni ISPs Those laws are being written by telcos and cable co's.
mendyk 5/24/2017 | 1:12:20 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this As others have said, we get the government we deserve.
Duh! 5/24/2017 | 12:53:35 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this I'm a bit less pessimistic. There are honorable public servants as well as scalawags, and a lot in between. There are squeaky-clean governments as well as cesspools of corruption. It all depends on the voters' discernment and the effectiveness of law enforcement. 
Phil_Britt 5/24/2017 | 12:40:39 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Would probably be more surprising if he wasn't running in his own self interest. Agree with brooks7 that they are all scum.
mendyk 5/24/2017 | 12:36:26 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this My neighbor got on the Board of Education because he was in the fence business (actual fences, not the other kind) and he knew the town was getting ready to bid out a big contract for ... fences.
brooks7 5/24/2017 | 12:31:51 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Dennis,

You can say that at any level of politics...local, state or federal.  All politicians are complete scum and will take money from anybody on any topic.

mendyk 5/24/2017 | 12:23:57 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Most state regs regarding utilities are carefully crafted by those who spend good money for the privilege.
Duh! 5/24/2017 | 12:19:50 PM
Re: Get to the bottom of this Yes and no.

A "model municipal code" is one of the Commttee's big deliverables. Funny thing about "model" codes is that they get dropped into actual codes and bylaws, maybe with a few exclusions or changes.  You can understand their concern: if you're not at the table, you're on the menu.
Joe Stanganelli 5/23/2017 | 10:47:30 PM
Representation Realistically, you can only have so many cities represented on the board.  You can't even have the top 50 metros, for instance.

This is really a problem on the cities end more than it is the FCC, it seems to me.  I mean, sure, lobby for a *couple* more seats, but band together across the nation for a National Association of Municipal Whatever and delegate a representative or representatives from that. 
mendyk 5/23/2017 | 2:59:02 PM
Get to the bottom of this Mari -- Your last graf really sums this whole issue up. For munis, getting a seat af the FCC table is nice, but the control is at the state level.
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