FCC swings a policy sledgehammer at local governments in 2018

by Steve Blum • , , ,

They might have ducked substantive statements about network neutrality, but two members of the Federal Communications Commission had a lot to say yesterday about local governments. Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Mignon Clyburn clashed during an FCC panel discussion at CES, which also included their colleague, Brendan Carr. O’Rielly and Carr are two-thirds of the republican majority on the commission; Clyburn is a democrat.

When asked about what plans he has for 2018, particularly regarding removing barriers to broadband deployment, O’Rielly pointed directly at local governments. While some cities are doing a good job managing permit processes and access to infrastructure, “there are many bad actors out there that see it as an opportunity for revenue gathering or power struggle”, he said. “I’m willing to use my authority to push those bad actors out of the way”.

That’s the wrong approach, Clyburn argued. “Not all communities are created equal”, she said. The FCC should “not take a sledgehammer when only a scalpel is needed”.

“We’ve tried the scalpels, we’ve tried the different approaches”, O’Rielly replied. “Now we have communities that are trying to extract dollars that they don’t deserve”.

O’Rielly said he’s waiting for the FCC’s lobbyist-laden broadband deployment advisory committee (BDAC) to come back with final policy recommendations later this month. He’s sure to be happy. BDAC’s draft proposals, released in November, are exactly the kind of sledgehammer O’Rielly seems to want: federal preemption of state and local permit processes for wireless sites and other broadband infrastructure, preemption of local ownership and oversight of poles and other wireless assets, statewide cable franchising and, for good measure, a de facto ban on muni broadband systems.

The panel session, moderated by Julie Kearney, a top lobbyist with the Consumer Technology Association, opened with an obligatory question about net neutrality and the commission’s decision to scrap common carrier status for broadband service. Aside from a couple of zingers – Clyburn called it “the destroying Internet freedom order”, while Carr blasted those who “are flaming the false flames of fear” – the conversation was about the process ahead and the occasionally collegial and occasionally not relationships between commissioners.