The Federal Communications Commission today ordered cities and towns across the country to stop regulating broadband over cable networks.
The vote to approve Chairman Ajit Pai's plan also limits the fees that municipalities may require cable companies. This can affect public broadcasters and services offered by network operators to cities and towns in exchange for cable TV franchises.
The FCC announcement of its decision said: "The order prohibits excessive franchise fees and explains that local governments may not regulate most non-cable services, including broadband Internet services, provided through a cable system." The FCC argued that the decision to " remove [s] barriers to the spread of broadband. "
Cities and cities have objections
Many cities had written to the FCC and urged it to scrap the plan.
"We have heard from thousands of communities across the country concerned that we are cutting the operation of so many local channels," said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, while voting against Pai's plan. "I'm sad that this agency refuses to hear."
The FCC Republican majority "insists [s] that funding these local stations and associated efforts harm the ability of the nation's broadband providers to expand their networks to communities without high-speed service," Rosenworcel said. But ISPs have not actually promised to distribute more broadband in exchange for the FCC regulatory favor, she said.
"Get through the text of this decision," Rosenworcel said. "You will not find a single commitment to provide more broadband service in remote communities. There is no legal commitment to expand broadband capacity. There is no consensus that savings from today's action are being pushed into new network distribution. I fear this absence speaks. bind. "
PAI's FCC has repeatedly asserted the authority to pre-empt local broadband regulation despite the fact that the FCC abandoned its own Title II authority to regulate broadband.
Today's vote "is consistent with the Commission's current confusing view that it has no statutory authority over broadband, but can still exempt states and local authorities from exercising their own authority," said John Bergmayer, legal director of the Consumer Advocacy Group Public Knowledge .
The FCC is likely to face a lawsuit over today's decision. Bergmayer predicted that the FCC order would overturn.
"In this case, the Commission has decided to follow a theory that an unclear provision in Title VI of the Communications Act gives the broad power to substitute their views for the local authorities closer to the people they serve," he said. "We are confident that this unreasonable exercise in statutory gymnastics will eventually be rejected." The FCC decision "contravenes many federal and state courts that have read the statute and found it does not contain such a wide disclosure authority," Bergmayer also said.
Comcast case helped spur FCC action
Pai's proposal complained that "some states and localities claim authority" to claim fees and make claims not explicitly permitted by Title VI, the cable regulation section which Congress added the Communications Act with the Cable Act of 1
U.S. cable law prevents local government from collecting more than 5% of a cable operator's gross revenue for a 12-month period. In today's announcement, the Pai office said some local governments have called for cable operators to get around the 5% cap, and that the FCC regulation will "curb [this] overreaction by local franchisees." The FCC order states that most natural contributions must count towards the 5% ceiling.
The FCC action was partially spurred by an Oregon state Supreme Court decision that upheld a 7% "telecommunications" license fee the city of Eugene imposed on Comcast. The FCC's Republican majority says the court has made the law wrong.
Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O. & # 39; Rielly said:
Inappropriate court decisions, such as the Eugene, Oregon franchise case, have mistakenly tried to open the door to the introduction of such fees on other services offered by traditionally have been called cable operators … However, the statute is quite clear on the matter, and the object correctly states that franchisees can only regulate cable services. Today's action shuts down potential revenue for non-cable franchising agencies, which is the right statutory reading.
"Grave Damage in Localities"
The FCC vote was 3-2, with dissensions from Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks, the FCC's second Democrat.
Thousands of federal, state, and local leaders have made substantial comments in our bottom, pointing out how our action today will … target certain terms negotiated to franchise agreements that are of great importance to local communities. From free or discounted services to schools or public buildings, to institutional networks or I-Nets, which are seen as critical infrastructure by many cities and rely on supporting government functions and public safety communications, much is at stake.
Public, educational and government channels (PEG) funded by franchise agreements will also take a hit, he said. Starks said: "Free or discounted service to schools with cash loads, offers of critical websites, discounts to disadvantaged communities – all of these franchise terms benefit the general public and are a small imperative given the value received by vendors in franchise negotiations," said Starks. "Our actions today are unnecessary, unsupported by law or precedent, and risk causing serious harm to local communities."
Pai defended the order by saying that fees charged by local authorities are passed on to consumers by cable companies. He said:
Every dollar paid for high fees is, by definition, a dollar that cannot and will not be invested in upgrading and expanding networks … This discourages the deployment of new services, such as faster home broadband or better Wi- Fi or Internet of Things network. By simply insisting that the LFA's [local franchising authorities] comply with the law, we will reduce consumer costs and accelerate the distribution of next-generation services.