FCC’s Wheeler tells towns to fight for faster internet

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Many Americans live in places where they have precisely one choice for decent internet service — a situation that FCC chairman Tom Wheeler appears anxious to fix. In remarks on Wednesday in Minnesota, Wheeler took shots at “those who seek to block the competitive forces that can produce faster, cheaper, better broadband.”

He didn’t name names, but it’s a safe bet that companies like [company]AT&T[/company], which have leaned heavily on state and city legislators to block new telecom entrants, were on top of Wheeler’s mind.

Wheeler, who delivered his speech to a gaggle of government officials, pointed to the example of Lafayette, Louisiana, where incumbent telecom companies used lawsuits and a referendum to stop the town from building a fiber network. The city ultimately prevailed, and in turn induced the existing internet providers to upgrade their own networks, but it came at a cost of three years of expensive litigation.

Wheeler’s decision to speak out in support of Lafayette and other towns facing legal hurdles to build out fiber networks goes against the message of conservative lobby groups, which have been sending out press releases that claim city involvement in broadband leads to boondoggles for taxpayers.

Wheeler has so far appeared skeptical of that argument, and in the past has suggested that he will side with two towns — Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina — that are petitioning the agency to sweep aside laws in 19 states that restrict cities from offering internet services.

His latest remarks come near the close of a public comment period about whether the FCC should overrule the state laws. The public comment period appears to have provided the FCC with additional ammunition in the event the agency decides to invoke its power to stop the late laws.

On Tuesday, for instance, the city of Palo Alto — home to Stanford University and many big names in Silicon Valley  — submitted a letter (embedded below) in support of Chattanooga. The city, which is one of the towns vying to be a new partner for [company]Google’s[/company] fiber-to-the-home service, points out that “this principle of local control has benefited multiple high-tech companies.”

Also this week, a report by the Boston-based Analysis Group provided more support for Wheeler’s demands for more broadband competition; it found that cities with faster internet had higher-per-capita GDP than those with slower speeds.

Palo Alto Petition

5 Comments

John Smith

The big market failure here is the private ISPs not providing low-speed internet for an economy price. A lot of folks would like to just get email and non-video access at DSL-like 1MBS speeds for about $10/month.

Dave Thomas

The Federal government should order one group of taxpayers in another state to pay for internet in Minneapolis? Why shouldn’t the citizens of Minneapolis pay for their own internet? Why shouldn’t they pursue tax and regulatory policies that attract business instead of driving them away? The federal government has no business taking money from anyone outside of Minneapolis to pay for what those citizens refuse to pay for.

Mike Weber

Government should remove obstacles and regulations that block competitive internet providers, but they should not be the internet provider (because government will cost more than the free market and interfere with competition.)

Luke

If the government will cost more than the free market, how are they going to interfere with competition? If the private options are cheaper and better, then consumers will do business with them instead of the government provided internet service.

Llord Eevil

Tax funded community internet is a waste of tax dollars. At best a community should only invest or provide incentives in providing fiber in everyone’s home and connecting this fiber up to a neighborhood access point where commercial providers can offer their services. If you build that, then they will come, and you’ll have internet service long in the future were tax payers won’t be heavily invested and needed as much.

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