Despite the challenges of deployment, municipal broadband is now a force to be reckoned with. And in the net neutrality fight, muni operators are lining up on both sides.
Several dozen municipal providers filed a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this week, declaring their opposition to the agency's proposal for Title II, utility-style regulation of broadband Internet service. Arguing that their small scale makes added regulation unnecessary, the muni providers point out that they have no power over content providers to compel payments for prioritizing traffic delivery. In the letter, the group also notes that while the FCC isn't proposing to regulate broadband rates today, that fact is "at best cold comfort" given that the Commission cannot stop future FCC leaders from instituting rate regulation under Title II if they decide to do so.
In contrast to the service providers who filed their opposition with the FCC, however, there are other muni operators who fully support Title II. Charlie Smyth, a board member with Urbana-Champaign Big Broadband (UC2B) told Computerworld, "By default, we support Title II and net neutrality in general where whole communities are able to determine their own destiny." Smyth added that he was very surprised by the opposing view of other municipal operators, calling their Title II arguments a "smokescreen" and "phony".
Meanwhile, in parallel with the Title II debate, the FCC also circulated a proposal earlier this month to knock down the state regulatory barriers in North Carolina and Tennessee designed to keep municipal broadband deployments from spreading. While the proposal is only directed at those two states, the agency's move could open the door for similar regulatory action in other parts of the US. (See Muni Utilities Take Gigabit Fight to FCC.)
Both the proposed Title II switch and the muni broadband proposal addressing deployments in North Carolina and Tennessee will come up for votes at the FCC's next open meeting on February 26. So the fireworks are just beginning.
— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading