Wednesday, October 01, 2014

FCC Head Lauds Lafayette's Fight

Lafayette's battle to win the right to serve itself with the most powerful technologies has made it back into the national debate. Our fight, and the success of LUS Fiber has been cited by the head of the FCC as he drops hints as to how his regulations might eventually enable other cities to follow Lafayette's lead. The FCC has the power to forbid laws that operate to stifle competition; historically that power has been used to outlaw state laws that hurt competition. Arguably, quite arguably, it extends to forbidding laws that restrain the abilities of local towns and cities to compete with telecommunications corporations. Two cities with fiber-based telecommunications utilities have petitioned the FCC to do just that and rule-making hearings are being planned. This is a big deal.

In our arcane system of governance the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, which sounds like some inconsequential federal bureau is actually an extremely important center of power. With the similarly innocuously named FTC the two commissions are the two major levers which the federal government has for ensuring competition and the free flow information. In recent years the FCC has been, to put it kindly, ineffectual not for lack of power but for lack of will to oppose the large corporations that dominate the media landscape. That may be changing FCC chair Tom Wheeler has been edging toward both a real net neutrality position and toward using the FCC statutory power to forbid competition-killing laws in many state—including Louisiana—which effectively block local communities from competing with the few national corporations that have an oligopolistic hold on the communications industry.

Wheeler, speaking before NATOA, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, offered hints that he'd be willing to push harder on freeing local communities to do what we've done here in Lafayette. From the remarks (emphases mine):

As you know, two communities – Wilson, NC and Chattanooga, TN – have petitioned the FCC to preempt the laws enacted by state legislatures that prohibit them from expanding their community-owned broadband networks. There are currently laws in 19 states that impose restrictions of one kind of another on such local decision-making. 
We will make our decision on those petitions on the record and on the merits. I am not going to comment on them any further. 
However, I do encourage you to consider how local choice and competition can increase the broadband opportunities for your citizens. I love the story of Lafayette, Louisiana where the local incumbent fought the city’s fiber network tooth and nail, bringing multiple court challenges and triggering a local referendum on the project. Thankfully, none of the challenges managed to prevent deployment – sixty- two percent of voters approved of the network in the referendum, and the Louisiana Supreme Court unanimously sided with the city – but they did delay deployment almost three years. When the network was finally built, the community experienced the benefits of competition, as the local cable operator decided to upgrade its network. Local choice and competition are about as American as you can get. 
Those American principles can play an important and essential role in assuring America’s future. 
Here's to hoping our experience helps influence the nation's policy toward allowing communities to find their own way forward without relying on the favors dispensed by corporations with no interest in our towns and cities beyond the profit they turn. I just wish Lafayette's name was on that petition as well beside Wilson and Chattanooga's.

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