House Votes to Save Bans on City Internet Service

Republicans want to stop the FCC from preempting state laws.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.
National Journal
Brendan Sasso
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Brendan Sasso
July 16, 2014, 12:12 p.m.

House Re­pub­lic­ans passed le­gis­la­tion Wed­nes­day to keep the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion from over­turn­ing state bans on city-owned In­ter­net pro­viders.

The vote is a warn­ing shot at the Fed­er­al Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sion, which has been mulling tak­ing ac­tion against states that re­strict mu­ni­cip­al broad­band ser­vice.

Rep. Mar­sha Black­burn, a Ten­ness­ee Re­pub­lic­an, spear­headed the amend­ment that would bar the FCC from us­ing any funds to pre­vent states from im­pos­ing lim­its on city broad­band. The amend­ment, which is at­tached to a fisc­al 2015 spend­ing bill, passed mostly along party lines in a 223-200 vote.

Black­burn’s home state of Ten­ness­ee would be a likely first tar­get for FCC ac­tion.

Chat­tanooga, Tenn., has rolled out a high-speed fiber In­ter­net net­work for its res­id­ents. The ser­vice, called “Gig City,” of­fers speeds about 50 times faster than the na­tion­al av­er­age for about $70 per month.

A state law, however, is keep­ing the city from ex­pand­ing the ser­vice to oth­er com­munit­ies that want it, ac­cord­ing to the city’s may­or.

In a blog post last month, FCC Chair­man Tom Wheel­er said broad­band pro­jects like the one in Chat­tanooga are bring­ing new com­pet­i­tion and spur­ring eco­nom­ic growth. He ar­gued that loc­al gov­ern­ments “shouldn’t be stopped by state laws pro­moted by cable and tele­phone com­pan­ies that don’t want that com­pet­i­tion.”

“I be­lieve that it is in the best in­terests of con­sumers and com­pet­i­tion that the FCC ex­er­cises its power to pree­mpt state laws that ban or re­strict com­pet­i­tion from com­munity broad­band,” he said. “Giv­en the op­por­tun­ity, we will do so.”

Tele­com and cable com­pan­ies have been lob­by­ing for the state re­stric­tions around the coun­try, ar­guing that it’s not fair for them to com­pete with gov­ern­ment-owned In­ter­net pro­viders.

Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment shouldn’t pree­mpt state de­cisions on the is­sue and that the pro­jects of­ten waste tax­pay­er money.

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