The private sector must play the leading role in extending broadband networks to every American,” explains Wheeler in his prepared remarks [PDF] for his appearance on Tuesday morning before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
He restates his commitment to easing the way for broadband build-out, and cites Google’s ongoing Google Fiber expansion as the template to follow.
“Google has developed a checklist for cities that want to participate in their Google Fiber project of steps that can be taken to ensure easier access to
existing infrastructure and to make construction speedier and more predictable,” says Wheeler, referring to the lengthy request for documents and answers that Google required of all 34 cities eligible for Fiber.
Had the FCC or any other federal agency undertaken that effort, it would likely have required years and gone through countless changes as lobbyists and legislators pecked at it like angry roosters. But Google got all 34 cities to return their questionnaires in under three months.
“The FCC should be asking similar questions about our own rules, cutting red tape wherever possible,” admits Wheeler.
The Chair also says he wants to see more competition in the broadband market.
“For many parts of the communications sector, there hasn’t been as much competition as consumers and innovation deserve,” he explains. “Given the high fixed costs and consequent scale economies, this isn’t especially surprising. But that makes it all the more important that we knock down existing barriers to competition and avoid erecting new ones. We must use all the tools at our disposal to encourage competition wherever it is possible.”
And that’s where he gets back to municipal broadband, a model in which a city or county owns — at least in part — its broadband network. Unfortunately, thanks to deep-pocketed cable industry lobbyists, there are laws on the books in 20 states that either ban muni broadband networks outright or severely limit them to the point where they might as well be banned.
“One place where it may be possible to encourage competition is municipally-owned broadband systems,” continues Wheeler. “I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws that have been adopted at the behest of incumbent providers looking to limit competition. I believe the FCC has the power – and I intend to ask the Commission to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband.”
Once again, we hope that Wheeler makes good on this promise, as municipalities should be allowed to invest in broadband networks if they so choose. The laws blocking muni broadband investment serve no one other than a cable and telecom industry that has enjoyed the perks of regional exclusivity deals for too long.