While most of the attention on Thursday’s Federal Communications Commission meeting was focused on the commissioners’ decision on net neutrality, a separate ruling to block state laws or regulations that limit the expansion of municipal broadband projects was a moment for celebration in two cities that petitioned the FCC to act on their behalf—Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina.
Both cities have developed their own local high-speed connectivity broadband networks and have been cited as success stories of local governments taking direct action to provide faster Internet speeds for residents and to encourage economic development.
“By its action today, the FCC has empowered local North Carolina communities to do whatever it takes for all of our citizens to realize the benefits of access to essential Gigabit infrastructure in our beautiful state,” according to an official statement from Wilson’s city government. “All possibilities are now on the table, whether through public-private partnerships or municipally-owned broadband networks, to ensure North Carolina’s businesses and residents remain competitive in the global economy.”
The FCC ruling opens the door to municipalities to create or expand similar local broadband networks but are currently stymied from doing so because of state laws or regulations that limit them or create other difficulties.
"The bottom line is some states have created thickets of red tape designed to limit competition," FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said, according to Ars Technica.
Last year, a coalition of cities, Next Century Cities, joined forces to press for action to make it easier for local governments to create such broadband networks.
“Today the FCC stood behind local leaders in Wilson and Chattanooga and their call for local choice. But this decision is about more than these two communities—it is a major step forward for all communities seeking next-generation Internet to transform the way we learn, work, and live,” Deb Socia, executive director of Next Century Cities, said in a statement. “Choice and competition are key ingredients to broadening the reach and opportunities afforded by this vital infrastructure. This decision is a win for local choice and a win for competition. It sets a powerful precedent nationwide that cities should be free to choose when it comes to high-quality Internet.”
But the FCC’s action on municipal broadband has faced opposition from various business interests that argue that the private sector is better suited to provide such services.
In January, Bill Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s senior vice president for the environment, technology and regulatory affairs, issued a statement criticizing President Obama’s support of giving municipalities more power to develop their own local broadband networks.
“President Obama’s announcement supporting municipal broadband shows once again that the administration is ignoring the tremendous private-sector investment and innovation that is bringing increased broadband access and speeds to millions of Americans. Municipalities are creatures of state law, and in a system based on federalism, a federal agency should not negate centuries of cooperation,” Kocavs said.
“The Chamber encourages a focus on unserved areas, but if the administration is serious about expanding broadband and reducing regulatory barriers, it should not impose new levels of uncertainty and set up government-subsidized competitors, when all evidence indicates that hundreds of billions of dollars of private-sector investment have been driving economic growth.”