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Lawmakers Urge FCC Chairman To Rethink His Position on GON’s

June 13, 2014

iStock_000003994351MediumA group of lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday sent a letter to Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler asking him, as the Coalition for the New Economy has done, to rethink his position on government-owned broadband. (As a reminder, Chairman Wheeler wants to use FCC authority to overturn state laws that require GONs to operate on the same playing field as privately-owned networks.)

According to the Capitol Hill newspaper The Hill, 60 lawmakers signed the letter and argued, “Inserting the Commission into the states’ economic and fiscal affairs as you have suggested … violates state sovereignty in a manner that warrants deeper examination.”

The lawmakers asked for Chairman Wheeler to explain where the FCC’s authority to override these laws comes from and also raised questions about what federal taxpayers’ role would be if local GONs failed. According to The Hill, the group “questioned Wheeler’s ‘ploy to override state laws restricting municipal broadband’ would mean “federal funding would be needed to bail out any municipal broadband projects that fail.”

The lawmakers asked that Chairman Wheeler “reevaluate the Commission’s future role in influencing government owned networks and how important the role our state elected officials have in this process.” The National Journal (subscription required) report earlier this week 11 U.S. senators made similar arguments to Chairman Wheeler.

In the National Journal article, Harold Feld from the nonprofit consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, said “Wheeler will probably not launch a broad initiative to attack state laws around the country. Instead, the FCC chief will probably wait for groups or individuals to file complaints about specific state laws …”

However, Feld also said Wheeler has essentially extended an “invitation” for GON supporters to make these complaints.

Lawmakers in the individual states that have these laws on the books have them because they felt they were right for their state and they wanted to preserve a competitive environment. CNE agrees with the more than 70 U.S. House and Senate lawmakers who urge Chairman Wheeler to rethink his position.