Wednesday, March 04, 2015

From Lafayette to Wilson: Municipal Fiber Deployment is About “Strengthening America” | CLIC

Mayor Durel has posted a congratulatory and supportive letter to the Mayor of Wilson, North Carolina. In it he congratulates Wilson on its recent success in overturning unfair state restrictions on competition. The FCC ruled that in Wilson's and Chattanooga, Tennessee's case that state restrictions on the expansion of broadband services beyond the municipal borders established by its electrical utility were unfair and constituted an illegal restraint of competition. This case has implications that go far beyond the particular issue immediately at stake: it asserts the federal right of preemption in the case of municipal broadband. Preemption is a widespread and time-honored principle of federal telecommunications policy—for instance phone companies have long been preempted from most local and much state intervention.  But this ruling puts almost all state laws banning and most state laws severely restricting municipal broadband at risk since they are largely explicitly about restraining the right of municipalities to compete against private providers on anything like a level playing field. Louisiana's onerous laws in the regard impose a welter of restrictions on community-owned broadband companies that would never be suggested as regulation of, much less tolerated by, private corporations. Louisiana's municipal utilities are not, for instance, allowed to loan telecomm units money...but Cox can cross subsidize its operations with multinational funds and funds from things like car sales. Similarly LUS Fiber has a limit set on how low a price it can charge the public based on how much Cox and AT&T claim in expenses but those corporations can charge as they see fit. (Yes, you read right the state ONLY regulates LUS Fiber's prices to make sure it doesn't offer you too competitive a price. Really. Read the law. You can't make this stuff up.)

Duel goes on in his letter to Wilson to assert that municipal broadband is not—or rather should not be—a partisan issue. To wit:
"As you in Wilson have, we have seen the increased politicization of the local Internet choice issue in Washington, and we regret that it has. At the local level, in our community, this is not a partisan issue and we have resisted letting it become one. Like you, we do not believe this issue is about politics or partisanship or electoral politics or the public versus the private sector. Rather, it is about strengthening America, local self-reliance and the opportunity of our citizens to live in a community with all the same opportunities – for jobs, education, health care, public safety, and much more. Wilson, like Lafayette, has built a network that ensures that your community will be second to none in these respects. Congratulations to you for taking this important step, you are obviously interested in doing the right thing for your citizens, so stay strong. And, please feel free to contact me anytime, I’ve been in your shoes."

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