Bill introduced in congress would ban state limits on local broadband service

18 September 2016 by Steve Blum
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With two weeks to go before the U.S. congress takes a pre-election break, progress on broadband-related bills appears to be as bogged down as it was in the California legislature’s recently concluded session. That’s not stopping Silicon Valley representative Anna Eshoo from throwing another community broadband bill into the hopper, though.

House resolution 6013 would, in effect, overturn a federal appeals court ruling that said the Federal Communications Commission can’t preempt a state’s ability to restrict municipal broadband projects. The judges decided that congress never gave the FCC unmistakably clear authority to override a state’s traditional power over local – subsidiary – governments. So Eshoo’s draft bill attempts to be unmistakably clear

No State statute, regulation, or other State legal requirement may prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting any public provider from providing, to any person or any public or private entity, advanced telecommunications capability or any service that utilizes the advanced telecommunications capability provided by such provider.

As I read it, though, the bill runs into a problem when it defines “public provider” as

A State or political subdivision thereof, any agency, authority, or instrumentality of a State or political subdivision thereof, or an Indian tribe…that provides advanced telecommunications capability, or any service that utilizes such advanced telecommunications capability, to any person or public or private entity.

That’s very broad language, and will either kill the bill completely or be severely trimmed back. It’s one thing to say that a state can’t keep a municipal broadband utility from serving another, nearby city. It’s quite another to say, for example, that the coastal commission’s IT department can build a fiber to the home system on its own whim.

The bill isn’t destined to make it into law. It’s a policy statement by Eshoo, who is up for reelection in November, as was her earlier bill to impose dig once obligations on federal highway projects. That bill is in deep freeze now, but it succeeded in crafting language that found its way into other proposed laws. Congress hasn’t passed any of those bills yet, but there’s still ample time left on the clock.