The FCC today voted to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories.
The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said in a press release. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures. Ironically, they will now be burdened by the poor judgment of a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and clearly cannot manage its own affairs."
Chattanooga and Wilson built highly advanced broadband networks, but can't serve adjacent areas where people are stuck with inadequate Internet service. By a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, the FCC's Democrats preempted the state laws in order to allow the municipal broadband networks to expand.
Blackburn's legislation attempting to reverse that action is titled the "States' Rights Municipal Broadband Act of 2015." Blackburn said it has five Republican co-sponsors in the House.
Blackburn also tried to prevent the FCC from preempting state laws with a proposal last July, but she wasn't able to gain final passage.
Democrats in Congress praised the FCC.
“Tearing down barriers that prevent communities from developing local solutions when there is little or no choice in Internet service provider is one of the great challenges for competition and innovation in the broadband marketplace," Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) said in a press release. "Today’s action by the FCC will support the ability of municipalities to decide whether or not they would like to build their own broadband networks and provide community members with high speed Internet service. I applaud the FCC for using its authority to support greater local choice and end restrictions placed upon local communities to make these decisions for themselves.”
The FCC also approved net neutrality rules today, while reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act. Congressional Republicans and Democrats split along party lines in their reaction to this decision as well.
“I’m thrilled that the FCC has taken this crucial step," Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) said in a press release. "But the fight isn’t over as some Republicans are already working on legislation to undo all of this. So in the weeks and months ahead, I will continue to make sure everyone understands what’s at stake, and why we need to stand by the strong rules adopted by the FCC."
Prior to today, Republicans filed legislation that would prevent the FCC from regulating broadband under common carrier laws, but allow the commission to enforce net neutrality restrictions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. They also launched an investigation into the FCC's net neutrality proceedings, claiming the White House had "an improper influence."
Large Internet service providers didn't make much noise about the municipal broadband vote, even though it could help their competition. But they had plenty to say on the net neutrality decision.
We already covered Verizon's creative response. Comcast Executive VP David Cohen wrote that "we are encouraged that the Commission has apparently forborne from numerous statutory provisions and cumbersome regulations, which will alleviate some of the most troubling aspects of using Title II." But Comcast is still disappointed. "We fully embrace the open Internet principles that have been laid out by President Obama and Chairman [Tom] Wheeler and that now have been adopted by the FCC," Cohen wrote. "We just don’t believe statutory provisions designed for the telephone industry and adopted when Franklin D. Roosevelt was president should be stretched to govern the 21st century Internet."
Comcast predicted "that we all face inevitable litigation and years of regulatory uncertainty challenging an Order that puts in place rules that most of us agree with. We believe that the best way to avoid this would be for Congress to act."
Behind closed doors, ISPs are said to be furious with Verizon because the company sued to overturn much weaker rules passed in 2010, leading to today's ruling. AT&T hinted at that displeasure in a blog post.
"[T]he agency has always tried to find a middle ground and a consensus win," Senior Executive VP Jim Cicconi wrote. "A win is the product of compromise, thoughtful policy, and a genuine desire to find the answer to a complex set of issues. We had such a situation—and a bipartisan win—in the 2010 net neutrality rule. Unfortunately, this was undone by a court decision, facing us with the same situation a second time."
Cicconi said AT&T hopes for "bipartisan legislation," but that "we once again face the uncertainty of litigation."
Not all companies that face the new rules are angry, though. The FCC is applying Title II and net neutrality rules equally to fixed and mobile broadband. Sprint, one of the four major wireless providers, said it "commends the FCC for its hard work in arriving at a thoughtful, measured approach on this important issue. We believe balanced net neutrality rules with a light regulatory touch will benefit consumers, while fostering mobile broadband competition, investment and innovation in the United States. We look forward to reviewing the FCC order and continuing to work with policymakers to ensure consumers benefit from an open Internet.”
"It is important to draw the distinction between regulation of the Internet, and regulation of carriers," wrote Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper. "The FCC’s order will disallow carriers from discriminating against sources of traffic that their customers choose to access via the Internet. This is common carriage at its core, and as a carrier, I am supportive of being regulated as a common carrier by the FCC."
Conservative lobbyists aren't backing off the FCC and Congress.
"Just like Obamacare has destroyed the healthcare market in the name of making it ’fair’ and ‘accessible,’ so we can expect that the FCC’s newest rules to destroy the Internet as we currently know and enjoy it," Constitutional Rights PAC Chairman Larry Ward wrote. "Constitutional Rights PAC sent over 100 thousand letters to the FCC—and additional thousands to Congress—on behalf of the grassroots, and we are not planning on backing down because of a handful of Obama’s bureaucrats decided on new ‘rules’ for us to play by."
"Tyranny can go FCC itself," Ward concluded.