Congressional Dems Urge FCC to Spur Muni Broadband Deployment

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By Bryce Baschuk  

June 27 — A bicameral group of eight Democrats urged the Federal Communications Commission to encourage municipal broadband networks.

The lawmakers, in a letter sent June 27, asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to “utilize the full arsenal of tools Congress has enacted to promote competitive broadband service to ensure America's communities obtain a 21st century infrastructure to succeed in today's fiercely competitive global economy.”

Nearly 20 states have established rules that discourage or prevent local governments from building broadband networks that may compete with incumbent commercial Internet service providers, according to data compiled by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Such laws are often the product of intense lobbying by cable companies and other ISPs seeking to preserve their market power.

FCC Action Pending

In April, Wheeler said the commission will act to preempt state laws that prevent communities from funding their own municipal broadband networks to compete against existing commercial networks.

The FCC will seek to “knock down public and private barriers to competition and avoid erecting new ones,” Wheeler said April 30 during a speech at the cable show. “I believe the FCC has the power—and I intend to exercise that power—to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband,” he said.

The Democratic lawmakers said they were pleased that the chairman believes “municipal governments should not be inhibited if they wish to pursue the creation of their own networks,” according to the letter. “Communities are often best suited to decide for themselves if they want to invest in their own infrastructure and to choose the approach that will work best for them.”

The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Ed Markey (Mass.), Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Cory Booker (N.J.), and Democratic Reps. Henry Waxman (Calif.), Anna Eshoo (Calif.) and Mike Doyle (Pa.).

Republican Opposition Persists

The letter serves as a counter to Republican lawmakers who remain staunchly opposed to FCC preemption of municipal broadband laws.

In a June 5 letter a dozen Senate Republicans said they were “deeply troubled” by Wheeler's comments about municipal broadband.

“Inserting the commission into the states' economic and fiscal affairs in such a cavalier fashion shows a lack of respect for states' rights,” the Republicans' letter said.

Wheeler has not yet proposed any specific plan to deal with municipal broadband issues but previously told reporters that the agency is “highly sensitive” to input from the Congress.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Heather Rothman at

Read the Democrats' letter at

The June 5 Republicans' letter is here: