Net neutrality wasn’t the only broadband issue voted on by the FCC today. They also voted to override state laws in two situations that were preventing municipalities from building out their own, local government run broadband services. Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina were two cities that had petitioned the FCC because their current state laws prevented expansion of their municipal broadband. Both of the cities have existing gigabit internet services but not expand beyond their city limits. The ruling has far-reaching implications and the consequences of the ruling are still unclear.
The FCC voted 3-2 to preempt the state laws in place, and that sets a precedent for future cases and petitions. The FCC essentially said that the government can overturn the laws voted in on a state level, at least in these broadband internet situations. The commission justified their actions in a press release that said, “Under federal law, a federal agency may preempt state laws that conflict with its regulations or policies so long as it is acting within the scope of its authority. There is a clear conflict, the Order finds, between Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which directs the FCC to take action to remove barriers to broadband investment and competition, and provisions of the Tennessee and North Carolina law that erect barriers to expansion of service into surrounding communities, including unserved and underserved areas.”
Opponents worry that now that the FCC has determined that the federal government can preempt state law in regards to municipal, they will likely do it more. Does the federal government have the power to tread on state’s rights in this manner? The FCC says yes, in this case. The state laws in place preventing municipal broadband rollout were not in the best interest of local citizens, even though the laws were voted in by local lawmakers. The federal government is looking out for the little guy, which may be the case.
The laws that prevent municipal broadband expansion are often pushed through by lawmakers backed by ISP and telecom lobbyists. Big broadband companies don’t want competition from municipalities or anyone else. “We don’t take lightly the matter of preempting state laws,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “The human faces of those who are condemned to second-rate broadband are a message to all of us.”