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.