By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org
State laws remain in the Obama administration’s crosshairs.
During a speech Wednesday at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association “Cable Show,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced his intention to ignore state laws banning government-funded Internet networks under the guise of encouraging competition.
Wheeler’s plans could directly affect as many as 20 states, which have laws limiting municipal broadband — Internet access funded by local governments, sometimes through the sale of bonds to private investors.
Wheeler first signaled his plans to ignore state broadband laws in February, when he announced an intent to try out new net neutrality rules regulating the way Internet service providers transmit content over their networks.
“I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures,” Wheeler said Wednesday.
“But if municipal governments — the same ones that granted cable franchises — want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power — and I intend to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband,” he said.
When a federal court struck down in January the FCC’s second try at regulating the Internet through its so-called net neutrality rules, the court upheld that the agency had the authority to promote broadband competition.
Progressive tech policy activists, who view Internet access as a modern utility, favor municipal broadband as a cheap alternative to larger Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon.
North Dakota Republican State Rep. Blair Thoreson, in an email to Watchdog.org, condemned Wheeler’s remarks at the conference as “yet another Obama administration heavy-handed edict.”
Thoreson — also a member of the board of directors of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which sponsors Watchdog.org — was one of several legislators in the audience during Wheeler’s speech.
“So, once again, D.C. will “preempt” state laws they don’t like. What a great country we now live in. Even the Democrat legislators amongst us were taken aback by this message,” he said.
Contact Josh Peterson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson