Eight senate Republicans including presidential candidate Marco Rubio sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler on Friday, expressing their concern about the federal government’s involvement in regulating local broadband networks.
Tennessee and North Carolina have passed laws in recent years to limit the outreach of public internet-service providers, as corporate lobbyists have convinced lawmakers in those states that municipal broadband will stifle free-market competition.
In February, the FCC ruled to block Tennessee and North Carolina state laws from preventing the cities of Chattanooga and Wilson from extending their public internet infrastructure to neighboring communities.
Friday’s letter to chairman Wheeler encouraged the FCC to stand down and let states regulate their own local governments, so as not to over-encourage public broadband which could risk squeezing out private competition.
Specifically, the letter argues that “municipal broadband networks not only run the risk of overbuilding existing private networks, they could also result in the loss of limited universal service funds for carriers who are delivering broadband to rural Americans.”
Indeed, federal funding has been initiated by the FCC “to deploy government-owned networks through the Universal Service Funds Rural Broadband Experiments program.”
Such aid has helped Chattanooga’s broadband network, for example, run at a blistering one-gigabit per second – 50 times faster than the average private network. With no profit motive, private broadband providers will not be able to compete with government-run services.
Despite the legitimacy of the free-market argument made by congressional Republicans, skeptics point to lobbying ties of certain politicians to the broadband industry. The only presidential candidate to sign the aforementioned letter was Marco Rubio, who has two men helping his campaign with ties to communications giant AT&T.
One, Scott Weaver, has raised over $40,000 for the Florida senator and is also an AT&T lobbyist and an affiliate of the law firm hired to litigate a FCC lawsuit on behalf of the company.
The second is Cesar Conda, a known AT&T lobbyist, Rubio’s ex-chief of staff and current part-time campaign fundraising manager.
[The Intercept] [The Verge]