updated 10:55 am EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
Remarks repeat what Wheeler has said in the past about local broadband
US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, after speaking with Chattanooga Tennessee mayor Andy Berke, took a hard stance against states' legislation and business deals with cable companies, which often prevent the buildout of municipal broadband. In a statement after the meeting, the chairman said in a blog post that he believes "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."
The remarks reiterate what the chairman had previously said about municipal broadband. At the National Cable and Telecommunications Association trade show, he declared that municipal governments "shouldn't be inhibited by state laws." The remarks were derided by mostly Republican senators, complaining that "state sovereignty" was impinged by the localities' drive for municipal broadband.
Chairman Wheeler was addressing the fact that many US cities have large fiberoptic networking installations, paid for by taxpayer dollars, that are "dark," unknown, or unusable -- primarily due to telecom company lobbyists and threats to localities. At least 20 states have enacted laws or other legal barriers to prevent community access to these networks, and even more have signed non-compete agreements with Internet providers.
Wheeler noted that in his discussion, he found that Tennessee has a law limiting the deployment of community networks, and this law is prohibiting the expansion of the network to surrounding communities, some of which have no broadband service other than cellular networks available at all.
Wheeler believes that "removing restrictions on community broadband can expand high-speed Internet access in underserved areas, spurring economic growth and improvements in government services, while enhancing competition. Giving the citizens of Chattanooga and leaders like Mayor Berke the power to make these decisions for themselves is not only the right thing to do; it's the smart thing to do."