Forty-two mayors and city leaders have sent letters of support to Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and Wilson, North Carolina Mayor Bruce Rose, who are advocating to overturn an anti-municipal broadband decision made by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The decision put a halt to an FCC ruling that would have preempted recently enacted legislation in N.C. and Tennessee that prohibits municipalities from creating publicly owned and operated broadband networks.
The mayors are members of the Next Century Cities association of public and private sector organizations, whose primary aims include providing affordable broadband access in cities and towns throughout the U.S.
“As mayors and municipal leaders, we know that there is no single best solution for supporting connectivity in our communities,” they state in the letter. “While our paths vary, we are united by our commitment to competition and the right of self-determination for all our communities, free from interference.¨
The FCC’s 2015 ruling would have allowed Chattanooga and Wilson to expand their municipal broadband networks to underserved neighboring communities.
The Anti-Municipal Broadband Decision
According to a Next Century Cities press release, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision is a reminder of the influence incumbent private-sector network operators have in government, which in this instance resulted in a judicial branch ruling that eliminates competition and reduces residents’ choice of Internet services and providers.
Court judges noted the public benefits and commercial success of Chattanooga and Wilson’s muni broadband networks in their ruling, the group pointed out in their letter.
“Today’s letter, signed by over forty mayors and city leaders from across the country, shows the significant support Mayor Berke and Mayor Rose have from their colleagues in their fight for broadband choice at the local level,” Next Century Cities’ Executive Director Deb Socia was quoted.
“This letter, signed by cities large and small, serves as a reminder to state and federal lawmakers that communities must be empowered to make their own decisions regarding broadband. We encourage all stakeholders to work together in order to protect the essential right to local self-determination for broadband nationwide.”
5 thoughts on “Next Century Cities Mayors Oppose Anti-Municipal Broadband Decision”
In the name of "local" control, Mayors are asking Washington DC to preempt their State legislature/constitution. Seems a bit ironic. Certainly the polemic doesn't come close to lining up with the "ask." But worse, by endorsing the FCC actions – the mayors are extending an invitation to the Courts to give the FCC/federal government authority to interfere very directly with City internal allocations of power. The Mayors are pursuing an a very understandable (and laudable) goal – local autonomy. But respectfully, they need to think this advocacy through to its logical conclusion. From the perspective of a mayor (or a city council, or a legislator or a governor) interested in "local" control — this is a really (no- REALLY) bad idea. If the Courts find that the federal government can actually bypass the Constitution to grant authority to a municipality not granted by the State (and I don't think they can) – then – the door is wide open for severe micromanagement of INTERNAL municipal/city policies by the federal government. Bad precedent to anyone that is actually interested in "preserving the right of self-determination for all our communities, free from interference." Mayors would be trading interference from the State for establishing legal precedent to permit micromanagement of internal City Operations across a range of issues by Washington bureaucrats.
JBR Comment – CONTINUED – It is obvious if the federal government CAN legally/constitutionally preempt the STATE limitations on the cities operations – aka internal "State" operations (and it cannot) – they could also preempt ANY municipal/local law (the city puts on ITS OWN OPERATIONS) that the FCC claims limits broadband deployment. Including of course limits the CITY places on where they want their broadband provider to give service. Say – at the city level – YOU want to have a town hall meeting before you extend service – the FCC could say- as they tried to say in the cases at bar – nope – can't do it. That would interfere with BB competition. The FCC expresses concern about people that are just 10 feet, 50 yards, 1 mile, 10 miles – from your facilities(?) that are clamoring for service. So you get to spend local tax dollars at the FCC in Washington DC (always an "inexpensive" operation) on questions that are best left with you. Or – the city voters in a referendum – (the same voters that provide implicit subsidies for the system) say – ok the muni corp can only extend BB service provision outside our city limits by 10 miles – or the city's BB administrator says – we don't want to add this section outside of town b/c overall its a money loser or would be way to expensive or its in another state. But wait – FCC bureaucrats in DC are likely to have a different view of the pros OR cons of that decision (one that is far more likely to line up more with particular interest groups IN DC – than with local conditions, any empirical analysis or the facts on the ground). And you can count on them to express it.
JBR Comment – CONTINUED – . [This is a "bipartisan" criticism – Note – depending on who is at the FCC at any particular time – the answer could be –  there is no such thing as a bad expansion of a muni-b service OR it could be  there is no such thing as a good expansion of a muni-b service. Neither view would be particularly respectful of LOCAL control or even LOCAL opinions (much less the factors the city considers/balances in making such decisions). What if – the the fact pattern closest to the case at bar – the person in the town charged with administering the the municipal BB business decides he (or she) wants to extend the service where the Mayor or town council thinks is a bad idea – for whatever reason. This is analogous to the case at bar. How can the FCC "not" offer to preempt. Certainly that's exactly the line of inquiry such a law would invite (and establish legal precedent for). If FCC has authority to preempt the state when they allocate authority internally, they sure as heck can do it to a city.
JBR Comment – CONTINUED – The FCC can clearly already preempt state OR local laws that impact telecommunications services like broadband (providing they don't deal with competitively neutral laws re: service quality, universal service, public heath and safety). 47 USC S 253.
What they [the fcc] cannot and should not be able to do – in interfere with internal State (or internal City) allocations of power.
Generically, an attempt to get a FEDERAL law to preempt current STATE legislative allocations of authority to muni's (Allocations of govt power w/in the state) , if a court upheld it, would establishes a horrific principle to those that believe in local control.
Even if the particular law that is being endorsed includes provisions that specifically preserve local (as opposed to state) autonomy – it will establish landmark precedent that Congress can actually interfere with the internal operations/decision-making procedures of State AND LOCAL/CITY governments. That's a can of worms you do not want to open. Its the archetype Pyrrhic victory.
I would hope and predict that no Court would uphold such a law.
JBR Comment -CONTINUED – If you are a muni – respectfully, the place to lobby for change is in your State legislature. If you get federal legislation preempting internal allocations of State power by those elected at the State level to do so – and some Court actually upholds it – you will establish precedent that means DC bureaucrats can and ultimately will control your internal (city) operations – a precedent that – if history is any guide – will metastasize well beyond the cities involvement in providing telecommunications services.
Mayors do not have easy jobs. And its pretty clear that State legislatures can cause problems – but trading State interference for federal interference from Congress or un-elected bureaucrats at a federal agency – just isn't a good trade.
People that think it is – need to pay more attention to DC decision making – and how much weight local expertise and input has on both Congressional enactments and federal agency decisions (as compared to the weight/attention paid to DC based special interests/advocacy groups ranging from the far right to the far left).
have a great day.