On Thursday, ahead of its historic vote to protect net neutrality, another "watershed moment" came when the Federal Communications Commission moved in favor of consumers by giving cities the power to create their own internet networks.
In a major victory for public alternatives to service provider giants, the FCC voted 3-2 to pass rules that kill state limits on municipal broadband rules in North Carolina and Tennessee.
The petitioners charged that the limits prevented alternative, publicly-owned broadband providers from competing with major ISP companies like Comcast and Verizon by forbidding operators from building high-speed networks beyond a certain geographical point or offering lower-priced plans than private carriers—rules which largely affect consumers in rural and under-served areas. Many of those local broadband operators petitioned the FCC earlier this month to intervene on their behalf.
"There are a few irrefutable truths about broadband," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, who introduced the proposal, said ahead of the vote on Thursday. "One is you can’t say you’re for broadband, and then turn around and endorse limits." "The human faces of those who are condemned to second-rate broadband are a message to all of us."
—FCC chairman Tom Wheeler
Wheeler "should be applauded for promoting this common-sense policy," said Free Press policy director Matt Wood. "It's good to see the FCC standing up to phone and cable company efforts to legislate away competition and choice. By targeting these protectionist state laws, the FCC is siding with dozens of communities seeking to provide essential broadband services where people have few to no other options."
Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, added, "Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families.
"Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come," Mitchell continued.
At least 20 other states have similar laws on the books, most of which resulted from statehouse lobbying by phone and cable giants. President Barack Obama in January called for an end to those laws, saying they harm broadband competition and neglect the needs of low-income customers. His announcement was called "a great moment for the principal of local self-reliance" by supporters of local internet alternatives."
On Thursday, Wheeler made clear who the commissioners had in mind when they made their vote. "We don’t take lightly the matter of preempting state laws," he said. "The human faces of those who are condemned to second-rate broadband are a message to all of us."