Dems Urge FCC Action to Protect Muni Nets

Eight Democratic members of Congress are challenging the FCC to reverse the trend toward legal restrictions on municipal development and ownership of broadband networks.

The five senators and three representatives last Friday sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, urging him to combat efforts to restrict community ownership of broadband networks, using the powers given to the agency in the 1996 Telecom Act.

According to The Baller-Herbst Law Group, a D.C. firm long associated with municipal broadband efforts, there are 21 states that currently have some restrictions on the rights of municipalities to own and operate their own broadband networks. These vary widely, however, ranging from outright bans to restrictions on how such networks can be financed or used to specific requirements on what services can be offered. (The full list can be found here.)

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), in particular, has actively worked at the state level to impede muni networks. It is far from alone in those efforts, however, as other major cable and telecom operators have worked hard to oppose specific network plans and what they see as a general threat of being forced to compete with tax-subsidized network efforts. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson spoke out against municipal networks in addressing Congress just last week.

The Democrats, including Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Cory Booker (D-NJ), argue in their letter that municipalities needing to promote their communities and attract jobs should not be restricted in their ability to fund and build their own networks.

The three members of the House of Representations signing the letter are Mike Doyle (D-NJ), Henry Waxman (D-CA), and Anna Ishoo (D-CA). The full text of the letter is here.)

— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading

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