FCC: Cities Can Override State Laws To Build Municipal Broadband
Credit: Steve Rhodes
February 26, 2015

Via The Verge just now, a vote to preempt state laws in two cases that has set an important precedent:

Before it tackles net neutrality, the FCC is setting a major precedent for municipal broadband: it's just voted to preempt state laws that were preventing two cities from building out their own locally run broadband networks. The decision was prompted by separate petitions from Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee — both cities that've established high-speed, gigabit internet services, but have been barred from expanding to neighboring communities due to existing state laws. So far, 19 states have similar regulations to those that the FCC is overriding in Wilson and Chattanooga, but today's ruling affects only those two specific cases.

Even so, the FCC's 3-2 vote will serve as a landmark moment that other communities will point to as they try to compete against commercial ISPs and knock down those deeply restrictive state laws. "There are a few irrefutable truths about broadband," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ahead of the vote. "One is you can’t say you’re for broadband, and then turn around and endorse limits." The commission has decided that Tennessee and North Carolina are needlessly preventing the "reasonable and timely deployment of high-speed internet access to all Americans," a senior FCC official said during a press call a few weeks ago. It's not hard to see the exact same logic being applied elsewhere when other petitions are brought forward.

If you're wondering where the FCC gets power to make these decisions, it's claiming that states are getting in the way of its authority — granted under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act — to promote the deployment of broadband across the US.

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