Wheeler: no more bans on municipal broadband networks

Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler on Tuesday suggested he might seek to abolish laws lobbied for by ISPs that block municipalities from building and using their own fiber-based broadband networks.

In an FCC blog post Wheeler wrote, "I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so."

Kansas, Minnesota and Colorado are currently among the states that have laws stopping cities from building their own fiber networks, or vastly restricting what they can be used for once they are built.

In outlining his point, Wheeler noted Chattanooga, Tenn., as being both "the poster child for the benefits of community broadband networks, and also a prime example of the efforts to restrict them."

Remarking on Chattanooga's utility-provided EPB Fiber, which delivers 1 Gbps connections for $70 a month, Wheeler noted, "Chattanooga's investment in community broadband has not only helped ensure that all its citizens have Internet access, it's made this mid-size city in the Tennessee Valley a hub for the high-tech jobs people usually associate with Silicon Valley."

Chattanooga's gigabit-speed networks remove bandwidth as a constraint on innovation, he added. "Amazon has cited Chattanooga's world-leading networks as a reason for locating a distribution center in the area, as has Volkswagen when it chose Chattanooga as its headquarters for North American manufacturing."

Alas, Tennessee has laws on the books, lobbied for by powerful Internet service providers including Comcast, which restrict EPB Fiber's expansion.

"Tennessee's law is restricting Chattanooga from expanding its network's footprint, inhibiting further growth," Wheeler also wrote. "The mayor told me how adjoining communities have asked to join the network, but cannot also be served by a simple extension of the broadband network because of the state law."

For more:
- read this FCC blog post
- read this DSL Reports story
- read this Washington Post story

Related links:
Minnesota legislators serve up bill to ban community broadband
FCC planning chief taps telecom execs for broadband, relay expertise
Lawrence, Kan., proposes building its own 1 Gbps-capable FTTH network
Muni broadband support flaring up again as digital divide widens
Chattanooga's EPB reduces 1 Gbps service to $70 a month