Parties Spar Over Municipal Broadband Issues

Posted September 10, 2014 at 6:10pm

On the issue of municipal broadband, the opposing sides are focused on the Federal Communications Commission and not Congress, but it’s still a topic that’s come up on the Hill, including during hearings, in letters to the FCC and on the House floor.

In July, the House adopted an amendment to a fiscal 2014 Financial Services and General Government spending bill that would bar the FCC from using money from the bill to prevent 20 states from implementing laws dealing with provision of broadband service by the state or localities.

The 223-200 vote on the amendment by Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn split along party lines: 221 Republicans voted in favor of the amendment, four were against it (Charles Boustany Jr. of Louisiana, Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, Mike D. Rogers of Alabama and Mo Brooks of Alabama). Among Democrats, 196 voted against the amendment, and two supported it (John Barrow of Georgia and Jim Matheson of Utah).

In June, eight House and Senate Democrats wrote to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to say they were pleased with his comments that communities shouldn’t be blocked from building their own networks if they want to do so and urged the FCC to use its “full arsenal” of tools to “promote competitive broadband service.”

“Communities,” they wrote, “are often best suited to decide for themselves if they want to invest in their own infrastructure and to choose the approach that will work best for them.”

Republicans have argued it’s an issue of states’ rights. A group of 11 Senate Republicans wrote to Wheeler in June that they had “deep concern” about his comments.

“Inserting the Commission into the states’ economic and fiscal affairs in such a cavalier fashion shows a lack of respect for states’ rights,” they wrote.

Sixty-one House Republicans also wrote to Wheeler in June saying FCC preemption would violate state sovereignty. “Without any doubt, state governments across the country understand and are more attentive to the needs of the American people than unelected federal bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.,” they wrote.