It’s hard to pick up a newspaper (as some people still do) or go on the Web without reading about an instance in which the Obama administration is feeling its oats. A couple of days ago, I wrote about the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) redefinition of what constitutes a broadband network. The change is significant – from 4 Megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
The redefinition almost certainly is a lever that the administration hopes to use to gain power in the bureaucratic cat and mouse game of how networking will be administered. A second and heavier boot fell today as the FCC announced that it indeed will reclassify broadband as a utility.
Another issue is coming to a head that is sure to add to the consternation of cable MSO, telco and wireless executives. The FCC is about to join the fight to strike down state laws that make it as difficult as possible, or simply impossible, for municipalities to build their own networks.
The move is a general one, but it will center on two specific projects, according to The Washington Post:
The Federal Communications Commission this week will begin considering a draft decision to intervene against state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that limit Internet access operated and sold by cities, according to a senior FCC official. The agency's chairman, Tom Wheeler, could circulate the draft to his fellow commissioners as early as Monday and the decision will be voted on in the FCC's public meeting on Feb. 26.
Nineteen states, according to Ars Technica, have anti-municipal broadband laws on the books. The move contemplated on February 26 would start a battle over the nationwide status of these laws. That battle focuses on the FCC’s move to circumvent the laws under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
This is not the only action in Washington, DC, on municipal broadband. On January 22, Democratic Senators Cory Booker (NJ), Edward Markey (MA) and Claire McCaskill (MO) introduced The Community Broadband Act. Ars Technica quoted from the bill, which certainly is comprehensive:
"No statute, regulation, or other legal requirement of a State or local government may prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting or substantially inhibiting, any public provider from providing telecommunications service or advanced telecommunications capability or services to any person or any public or private entity," the bill says.
Republican control of the Senate means that the bill isn’t going anywhere, however. It does suggest a synergy with the administration.
Though the headlines will come out of DC, much of the battle will be fought at the local level. The Portland Press Herald reported this week that Time Warner Cable hosted a “Winter Policy Conference” in January that focused on treating Maine legislators lavishly while telling them why municipal broadband is a bad idea.
The story details the conference, which seems to be a classic boondoggle. It is important to note, however, that the story was not written by the Press Herald. The byline is shared by Naomi Schalit and Blake Davis, who are associated with the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. That organization certainly could have its own agenda.
The Obama administration has made a number of aggressive announcements in the three months since the mid-term elections. The reaction to those moves by those arrayed against it – from the political and business worlds – likely will kick in soon. It will be a long time until issues such as the rights of municipalities to mount broadband projects are decided.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.