Eight U.S. senators, including a prime contender for the Republican presidential nomination, are blasting the Federal Communications Commission for its support of local government-owned broadband networks .
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, joined the other seven Republican lawmakers in penning a new letter last week, charging the FCC with “promoting government-owned networks at the possible expense of private-sector providers” by reaching out to local leaders in support of municipally owned broadband.
The senators assert that type of action is inappropriate for the agency, claiming it “should not be in the business of picking winners and losers in the competitive broadband marketplace.” Additionally, they find this outreach effort “both inappropriate and legally questionable” and they “encourage the FCC to halt its outreach campaign against the exercise of state sovereignty.”
The lawmakers are also demanding a response from the agency on a series of questions regarding its support for municipal broadband by Jan. 4. The senators specifically hope to understand what funding the FCC has committed to support municipally owned networks. They also want details on the commission’s plans for any future policies relating to the networks, the agency’s intentions for additional outreach in 2016, and the FCC’s position on whether or not the emergence of government-owned network could result in a loss of federal funding for a private network in the same area.
The senators’ ire largely stems from the FCC’s ruling in February preventing the Tennessee and North Carolina legislatures from enacting laws that would have blocked the development of government-owned networks, writing that the move shows a “callous disregard for states’ rights.” Both states are currently challenging that decision in court.
The FCC has yet to publicly respond to the lawmakers’ letter, but in a statement defending the commission’s February ruling, Chairman Tom Wheeler wrote that localities deserve to be free from laws “designed to limit competition” that are “often passed due to heavy lobbying support by incumbent broadband providers.”
While Wheeler noted that “many communities work with existing private sector providers to facilitate improved broadband service,” he believes broadband expansion in rural areas of the country is “not occurring broadly or quickly enough to meet the increasing bandwidth demands of consumers.”
Wheeler added that “we do not take the step of preempting state laws lightly,” but that support for government-owned networks is critical for giving communities “a full range of options for meeting their broadband needs.”
Since the FCC’s ruling, communities in both states with municipally owned networks — Chattanooga, Tennessee and Salisbury, North Carolina — have begun offering 10-gigabit-per-second connections to their residents, making them the only providers to do so in the country.