Seizing upon remarks made by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in response to a recent congressional inquiry, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) joined Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) in urging the FCC to “use its authority to ensure municipalities have the power to make decisions about their broadband infrastructure.” The aforementioned quote by Markey is included in a joint statement issued by the lawmakers in response to an August 11 letter from Wheeler to Doyle. That letter, in turn, responds to a June 27 letter to Wheeler that was signed by Doyle, Markey and six other congressional Democrats on the subject of municipal broadband deployment and that calls on the FCC 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.”

Writing to Doyle, Wheeler voiced concern with recent state efforts to enact anti-municipal broadband laws that “place a range of restrictions on communities’ ability to invest in their own future,” adding: “there is reason to believe that these laws have the effect of limiting competition . . . contrary to almost two decades of bipartisan federal communications policy.” Wheeler also confirmed that the FCC had recently received petitions from the cities of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina that ask the FCC to preempt state laws that prohibit deployment of municipal broadband networks and that the agency has requested comment on both requests. As he affirmed his respect for “the important role of state governments in our federal system,” Wheeler advised Doyle that “federal preemption is not a step to be taken . . . without a careful consideration of all relevant legal and policy issues.”

In reply, Doyle said, “I welcome Chairman Wheeler’s response . . . and I strongly encourage him and the FCC to take quick and decisive action to lift restrictions that limit or prevent communities from addressing their own broadband needs.’ Along a similar vein, Markey agreed that “what the broadband market needs today are more options and greater local choice, not barriers that prevent cities and towns from participating fully in the global economy.” The National Conference of State Legislatures, however, hinted at possible legal action if the FCC moves to “diminish the duly adopted laws of the . . . states.”