Seizing upon President Obama’s endorsement of municipal broadband networks in a recent Iowa speech, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA), Claire McCaskill (D-MO) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced legislation last Thursday that would bar state governments from enacting laws restricting the deployment of municipal broadband networks. Known as the Community Broadband Act, the bill specifies that “no statute, regulation, or other legal requirement of a state or local government may prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting or substantially inhibiting, any public provider from providing telecommunications service or advanced telecommunications capability or services to any person or any public or private entity.”
The measure was announced as the FCC continues to consider petitions, filed last year by the cities of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina,
requesting the FCC to preempt state laws that limit or bar deployment of municipal broadband networks. A ruling on the petitions is expected next month, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has urged his colleagues to vote in favor of preemption “in the best interests of consumers and competition.”
Defining public providers as “states, their public subdivisions, and Indian tribes, as well as their agencies, authorities and instrumentalities,” the bill would require public providers with regulatory authority over competitors to apply ordinances, rules and policies without discriminating in favor of public providers. Before they offer broadband service, public providers would be required to publish advance notice of their plans and offer private-sector entities “an opportunity to bid to provide the capability or services.” The measure encourages public-private partnerships and also includes exemptions to public notice and other transparency-related provisions in times of state or national emergency.
Markey explained that the legislation will “support the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks” as “barriers at the state level are preventing communities from developing local solutions when there is little or no choice in their Internet service provider.” Observers predict, however, that the bill is likely to face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Congress where House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) asserted in reply to Obama’s speech that “state and local officials know better than beltway bureaucrats what’s best for their communities.”