Municipal broadband fans Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Tuesday pushed the FCC to preempt state laws limiting municipal infrastructure buildouts, citing a letter from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler on the subject.
"I strongly encourage him and the FCC to take quick and decisive action to lift restrictions that limit or prevent communities from addressing their own broadband needs," said Doyle in a joint statement with the senator. "I encourage the Commission to use its authority to ensure municipalities have the power to make decisions about their broadband infrastructure," echoed Markey.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has signaled he thinks the FCC has the authority and responsibility to step in where states are blocking municipal broadband, arguing that those state laws are the result of lobbying by incumbents trying to prevent competition — Wheeler is himself a former cable lobbyist as head of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
The FCC could have initiated its own proceeding on federal preemption, but won't have to after the cities of Chattanooga and Wilson, N.C., petitioned the FCC to preempt state laws, which the FCC is currently reviewing.
In Wheeler's letter to Markey and Doyle (responding to their inquiry about preemption), Wheeler said that any decision about municipal broadband would come after an open proceeding with careful analysis. But while he said he respected state governments, he also knew that if their laws conflicted with "critical federal laws and policy," they could be preempted.
He said he would not take the step lightly, but also said that "many states have enacted laws that place a range of restrictions on communities' ability to invest in their own future," and that "[t]here is reason to believe that these laws have the effect of limiting competition in those areas, contrary to almost two decades of bipartisan federal communications policy that is focused on encouraging competition."