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Revisiting the Blackburn Amendment Debates
REMINDER - Today is the last day to file comments in the opening round of the FCC petitions of Wilson and Chattanooga. Information on how to file here.
Last month, we covered the progress of U.S. Representative Marsha Blackburn’s amendment to strip the FCC of its authority to restore local decision-making as its budget wormed its way through committee and into a larger appropriations bill. Her quest to keep state bans and restrictions on community networks in place (including in her home state of Tennessee, where Chattanooga EPB has filed a petition to start serving neighbors in need) is impressive for its boldness, if not its logical consistency. Impervious to many observers and commenters who noted her extensive financial support from incumbent telcos, she succeeded in passing the amendment on the House floor by a vote of 223-200.
The points raised by Representative Blackburn on the House floor in support of her amendment deserve some attention, as does the rebuttal offered by Representative Jose Serrano of New York’s 15 district, who rose against the amendment and in defense of the right of local communities to decide for themselves how to meet their broadband needs. Few of Blackburn’s arguments will surprise regular observers of the telco incumbent playbook, but there are some highlights that deserve special focus.
Rep. Blackburn based nearly her entire argument against FCC preemption on the idea that states are closer to the people than Washington, and that the FCC shouldn’t tell the local folks what to do:
“[Chairman Wheeler] wrongly assumes that Washington knows best, and forgets that the right answer doesn’t always come from the top down.”
ILSR Submits Comments to FCC on Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance recently submitted comments to the FCC as part of its Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet proceeding. ILSR focused on the issue of paid prioritization, reclassification, and regulation of content. We also provided some examples of municipal networks that provide fast, reliable, affordable service and do not rely on paid prioritization to serve customers.
From the ILSR comments:
The FCC should be extremely wary of any arguments that claim paid prioritization or other discriminatory practices are necessary to increase investment in next-generation networks. These networks are already being built and paying for themselves in both public and private approaches (as well as partnerships mixing the two). ILSR sees no reason to believe any additional revenues gained by discriminatory pricing would be reinvested in improving DSL and cable networks as the largest firms operating these networks generally face little competitive pressure to upgrade. That is the problem, not a lack of revenue in the current model.
Our reading of the various court decisions suggest the only option for the FCC to preserve the open Internet and prevent big cable and telephone companies from tinkering with the established principle of non-discriminatory carriage is reclassification and urge the FCC to take this step. However, we also urge the FCC to take actions to prevent any regulation of content. The FCC should concern itself with the transmission of information, regardless of what that information is, consistent with long-held Internet principles.
The Open Internet proceeding has inspired an estimated 1 million+ comments. The outpouring strained the FCC's system and as a result, the FCC extended the comment period to July 18th.
The full document is available below for download and available on the FCC's electronic filing system.
Oklahoma's Sallisaw Passes Resolution to Support FCC As It Considers Preemption
Sallisaw, home of DiamondNet, is the latest community to publicly express its desire to put telecommunications authority in the hands of the locals. On July 14, the Sallisaw Board of City Commissioners approved Resolution 2014-17 in support of the FCC's intention to preempt state anti-muni laws.
A Resolution Supporting Telecommunications Infrastructure For Local Governments
WHEREAS, local governments, being closest to the people are the most accountable level of government and will be held responsible for any decisions they make; and
WHEREAS, community/municipal broadband networks provide opportunities to improve and encourage innovation, education, health care, economic development, and affordable Internet access; and
WHEREAS, historically, the City of Sallisaw has ensured access to essential services by providing those services that were not offered by the private sector at a reasonable and competitive cost; and
WHEREAS, in 2004 the City of Sallisaw took steps to construct its own Fiber to the Premise telecommunications system and now provides the community with quality state-of-the-art broadband services including video, High Speed Internet and telephones services, that otherwise would not be available today; and
WHEREAS, local government leaders recognize that their economic health and survival depend on connecting their communities, and they understand that it takes both private and public investment to achieve this goal; and
WHEREAS, the DC Circuit Court has determined that Section 706 of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 unambiguously grants authority to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove barriers that deter network infrastructure investment;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of City Commissioners of the City of Sallisaw, Oklahoma, supports FCC efforts to ensure local governments are able to invest in essential telecommunications infrastructure, if they so choose, without state-imposed barriers to discourage such an approach.
ADOPTED by the Governing Body on 14th day of July, 2014.
Chattanooga and Wilson Comment Period Open; Tell the FCC You Support Local Authority
Last week, the communities of Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, filed petitions with the FCC. Both communities requested that the agency remove state barriers preventing expansion beyond their current service areas. On July 28, the FCC established a public comment calendar for the request. It is imperative that all those with an interest in better access take a few moments to express their support for these two communities.
Opening Comments are due August 29, 2014; Reply Comments will be due September 29, 2014. That means you need to submit comments by the end of this month. If you want to reply to any comments, you can do that in September.
This is a pivotal moment in telecommunications policy. For months municipal network advocates have been following Chairman Wheeler's stated intentions to remove state barriers to local authority. Within the past few weeks, federal legislators - many that rely on campaign contributions from large providers - pushed back through Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Blackburn introduced an amendment to a House appropriations bill preventing FCC preemption if the amendment becomes law.
ILSR and MuniNetworks.org encourage individuals, organizations, and entities to file comments supporting the people of Wilson and Chattanooga. These two communities exemplify the potential success of local Internet choice. We have documented their many victories on MuniNetworks.org and through case studies on Wilson [PDF] and Chattanooga [PDF].
Media Roundup: Blackburn Amendment Lights Up Newswires
Rep Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and her love for large corporate ISPs was all over the telecommunications media this week. She attempted to kneecap the FCC as it explores options to restore local telecommunications authority to communities. Blackburn introduced an amendment attacking local options as the House took up general appropriations bill H.R. 5016.
The amendment passed 223-200, primarily along party lines, with most Republican Reps voting with Blackburn and all but two Democrats opposing the amendment.
Democrats voting to support the amendment included Georgia's 12th District's John Barrow and Jim Matheson from Utah's 4th District. If either of these gentlemen represent you, take a moment to call their offices and point out their voting mistake.
Republicans that voted No were Mike Rogers and Mo Brooks from Alabama's 3rd and 5th Districts. Charles Boustany from the 3rd District in Louisiana and Chuck Fleischmann from the 3rd District in Tennessee (includes Chattanooga) also opposed the restriction. If these elected officials represent you, please take a moment to contact them and thank them for breaking ranks to support local authority.
Coverage this week was fast and furious.
Sam Gustin from Motherboard reported on Blackburn's efforts. Gustin checked in with Chris:
"Blackburn's positions line up very well with the cable and telephone companies that give a lot of money to her campaigns," said Mitchell. "In this case, Blackburn is doing what it takes to benefit the cable and telephone companies rather than the United States, which needs more choices, faster speeds, and lower prices."
Vote Expected Today on Blackburn Amendment Targeting Munis; Call D.C. Now!
Last night, GOP Representative Marsha Blackburn, introduced an amendment intended to destroy local authority for telecommunications investment by severely limiting FCC funding. The amendment, introduced during debate on H.R. 5016, targets 20 states, many with state-erected barriers already in place and/or municipal networks already serving local communities.
The vote was postponed but is expected today (Wednesday) at approximately 2:30 p.m. ET. Now is the time to call the D.C. office of your Representative and tell him or her to vote NO on this amendment. If your Rep has a telecom staffer, ask to speak to him or her first.
The text of the amendment is as follows:
AMENDMENT TO H.R. 5016, AS REPORTED OFFERED BY MRS. BLACKBURN OF TENNESSEE
SEC. ll. None of the funds made available in this Act to the Federal Communications Commission may be used, with respect to the States of Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin, to prevent such States from implementing their own State laws with respect to the provision of broadband Internet access service (as defined in section 8.11 of title 47, Code of Federal Regulations) by the State or a municipality or other political subdivision of the State.
Multichannel News reports that New York DFLer Jose Serrano reacted the way we hope all Members will when it is time for the vote:
Wheeler has argued that those laws were the result of incumbent broadband providers using their lobbying muscle--he used to be one of those himself as president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association--to try to block competition.
National Coalition Opposes Anti-Muni D.C. Legislation; Time to Call Your Rep!
The National League of Cities (NLC), National Association of Counties (NACo), and National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) joined together this morning to send a letter to Congress expressing their opposition to anti-muni legislation being discussed in the House.
As we reported yesterday, it is imperative that concerned constituents speak out against two anticipated amendments that can stifle local investment or end local telecommunications authority. The amendments are expected within the next few days, so we need to act now.
Appropriations bill H.R. 5016, introduced on July 2nd, provides funding for financial services and general government, including the FCC. H.R. 5016 will be the vehicle to force through language to further restrict community broadband networks.
The amendment most damaging to local telecommunications authority is expected to come from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). The amendment's purpose is to remove authority from the FCC to preempt state laws preventing local broadband infrastructure investment. By restricting the FCC's use of its funding, the legislation will choke the agency's ability to explore its plan to influence anti-muni state barriers so local communities can decide their own fates.
As the NLC, NACo, and NATOA write in their letter to Congress:
The National League of Cities (NLC), the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) strongly urges you to oppose any amendment to HR 5016 that would hamstring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from taking any action on – indeed, even discussing – the issue of state laws that prohibit or restrict public and public/private broadband projects. It is clear that such laws harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, and hamper work force development.
Understanding Title II and Network Neutrality - Community Broadband Bits Podcast #101
Wheeler Tells Cable Industry He Intends to Remove Anti-Competitive State Laws
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is prepared to roll back restrictions that prevent local governments from deciding if a municipal network would be a wise investment. At the Cable Show Industry conference in Los Angeles, Wheeler told cable industry leaders the FCC will wield its powers to reduce state barriers on municipal networks.
Wheeler spoke before the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) on April 30. These words perked up our ears and those of community networks advocates across the U.S. From a transcript of Wheeler's speech:
"One place where it may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power – and I intend to exercise that power – to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband."
As our readers remember, a January DC Circuit Court of Appeals decision opened the path for the FCC to take the action Wheeler proposes. Since then, communities have expressed their desire for local authority with resolutions and letters of support. Communities in Michigan and Louisiana, Georgia and Idaho, Illinois, Maryland and Kansas, have shared their resolutions with us. A number of other communities have issued letters of support encouraging action under section 706.
Ian Masters Interviews Christopher Mitchell on Background Briefing from Los Angeles
Christopher Mitchell recently spoke with Ian Masters on the Background Briefing show from KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. Masters connected with Chris to discuss the increasing importance of community networks in light of recent court decisions: Network Neutrality and the court's interpretation of section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
From the Background Briefing website:
Then finally we speak with Christopher Mitchell, the Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self Reliance about the more than 400 towns and cities across America who have installed or a planning to install fiber broadband municipal networks as an alternative to the telecom and cable monopolies who appear to have captured Obama’s FCC which is poised to end the government’s commitment to net neutrality. We discuss the need to both support municipalities who are building networks to circumvent cable monopolies with high speed broadband that other advanced nations enjoy, at the same time, holding the FCC’s feet to the fire so they don’t sell out the public and abandon net neutrality.
The conversation runs about 20 minutes.