The Federal Communications Commission is slated to vote some time this week on the rights of cities to create their own fiber broadband networks. The measure is expected to pass, and Internet provider giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon could see an increase in competition, meaning that areas that were previously under served could have access to quality high-speed Internet in the near future.
The telecom and cable industries have worked closely with legislators in 20 states to pass laws that prevent cities from creating their own municipal broadband networks, and in some cases they have co-authored part or even all of the bill, tailoring it to serve themselves while preventing the possibility of competition. As a result of this legislation, communities in states with active laws that prevent municipal broadband projects have no choice but to accept the quality and price of service that major Internet service providers offer, even if it doesn’t meet their needs.
The vote comes as the result of petitions that were filed by two cities that were negatively impacted by the legislation, and they are urging the FCC to do away with the bans altogether. The cities of Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee created thriving public broadband networks, but state enacted bans prevented them from extending their fiber Internet service to nearby communities. Both the telecom industry and its political supporters contend that the government should not be in direct competition with private enterprises, and that efforts to do so are a waste of taxpayer money.
The outcome of the vote is expected to split 3-2 in favor of community broadband initiatives, effectively blocking the industry-backed state laws preventing communities from creating their own broadband networks. Although the vote would only affect the bans in North Carolina and Tennessee, it sets a new precedent that could allow the law to be overturned in the remaining 18 states. The decision could also signal a change in the public view of rest of the states could also be overturned and may signal a fundamental change in perspective about municipal fiber.