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FCC chief: Federal law and policy preempts state law in ‘appropriate circumstances’

By   /   August 20, 2014  /   No Comments

By Josh Peterson | Watchdog.org

WASHINGTON — Despite critics wary of municipal broadband’s disastrous track record across the country, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler continues to forge ahead, expressing his desire to use the FCC to preempt state laws banning the services.

AP photo

THEY’RE NOT HAPPY WITH YOU: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is drawing the ire of senators over his comments about municipal-owned Internet providers.

Wheeler’s interest in using federal power to ignore state laws noticeably increased after a federal court affirmed the commission’s authority to promote broadband competition. The FCC’s libertarian and conservative critics warned the court’s decision provided the rationale  the commission was seeking to regulate the Internet.

Responding to a letter sent by a number of Democratic senators and congressmen in June, Wheeler wrote he believed state laws banning municipal broadband “limit” competition in the broadband space.

“I respect the important role of state governments in our federal system, but I know that state laws that directly conflict with critical federal laws and policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances,” said Wheeler.

Chattanooga, interested in promoting its own broadband service, petitioned the agency to ignore state laws prohibiting the business model.

“I recognize that federal preemption is not a step to be taken lightly without a careful consideration of all relevant legal and policy issues,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler first announced his intention to preempt state laws while speaking at a cable industry conference in April, causing a number of GOP senators to criticize the chairman’s plan as “cavalier.”

Municipal broadband is an Internet-service owned by local governments, and progressive tech policy analysts see it as a way to bring high quality Internet service to areas not viable for private Internet service providers. The model is banned in 21 states to protect against the waste of taxpayer resources.

“Their laws range from requiring a taxpayer referendum or mandate and evidence the system can be self-sustaining, to complete prohibitions on telecommunications services if a private company or companies already provides such services,” Citizens Against Government president Thomas Schatz and Utah Tax Payers Association vice president Royce Van Tassell said in a June Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The Leichtman Research Group revealed in a study published on Aug. 15 that “for the first time ever,” the top cable companies held more broadband Internet subscribers than they did cable TV subscribers.

Contact Josh Peterson at jpeterson@watchdog.org.  Follow Josh on Twitter at @jdpeterson

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Josh Peterson is a DC-based tech reporter for the Franklin Center's Watchdog.org news site. Peterson previously spent two years at The Daily Caller covering tech and telecom regulatory policy as the publication's Tech Editor. During that time, he focused on cybersecurity, privacy, civil liberties, and intellectual property issues, and in addition to covering political protest movements. Prior to joining The Daily Caller in October 2011, Peterson spent time in DC researching and reporting on technology issues in internship roles with Hillsdale College's Kirby Center, Broadband Breakfast and The National Journalism Center, and The Heritage Foundation. Peterson has a B.A. in Religion and Philosophy from Hillsdale College. He is also a musician and music enthusiast, and an avid martial artist.