The Federal Communications Commission and the powerful US cable conglomerate may soon be squaring off over more than net neutrality. According to The Washington Post, the FCC next month plans to vote on petitions that could help two towns work around state laws currently making it difficult or impossible to expand local, community-driven broadband. Incumbent cable providers have long lobbied against the prospect of facing wider competition — which could in turn force down the prices consumers pay for their services. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said he and his colleagues will "carefully review the specific legal, factual, and policy issues before us."
More tension between the FCC and big cable
It's unlikely that the FCC will overturn all of those state laws with a single decision; these specific petitions affect Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina. But merely scheduling a vote on the matter will add tension to the uneasy, deteriorating relationship between the commission and big cable. Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly said that the FCC stands on the side of cities in this battle. And just this week, President Obama urged the commission to eliminate state laws that hamper the buildout of municipal broadband. "Laws in 19 states — some specifically written by special interests trying to stifle new competitors — have held back broadband access and, with it, economic opportunity," the White House said in a report released Tuesday.
Obama wants the FCC to knock down "barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens." Attempting to do so could set off a wide range of lawsuits between entrenched ISPs and the commission. Cable providers have argued the FCC doesn't truly hold the power necessary to reverse existing laws, and also put money in the pockets of Republican lawmakers to shut down any attempts in Congress.