WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) today introduced legislation to prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from overriding state and local municipal broadband laws.
Earlier today, the FCC voted to effectively overturn North Carolina and Tennessee state laws that set requirements and conditions on municipalities competing with the private sector in the broadband marketplace.
The Tillis-Blackburn legislation says that the FCC cannot pre-empt states with municipal broadband laws already on the books, or any other states that subsequently adopt such municipal broadband laws. The bill also includes a Sense of Congress stating that the FCC does not have the legal authority to prohibit states from implementing municipal broadband restrictions. Original co-sponsors of the federal legislation included Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Robert Pittenger (R-NC), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and David Rouzer (R-NC).
“It is disturbing, yet not surprising, that the FCC and Chairman Wheeler are attempting to deny the sovereign right of states to make their own laws,” said Senator Tillis. “After witnessing how some local governments wasted taxpayer dollars and accumulated millions in debt through poor decision making, the legislatures of states like North Carolina and Tennessee passed commonsense, bipartisan laws that protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of free-market competition. Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people through their state legislatures.”
“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” said Congressman Blackburn. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures. Ironically, they will now be burdened by the poor judgment of a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and clearly cannot manage its own affairs.
“I’m pleased to be working with Senator Tillis on this important issue. As former state legislators, we strongly believe in States’ rights and will fight the FCC’s liberal agenda. Chairman Wheeler’s regulatory appetite appears to know no bounds and is seeping dangerously into the lives of Americans. It is time for Congress to assert itself and protect States once again from unelected Washington bureaucrats.”
In 2006, the City of Wilson, North Carolina, borrowed at least $34.6 million to build a government-owned broadband network, without a vote of its citizens. In support of the borrowing, Wilson’s broadband business plan claimed that the fiber project would be cash positive in year three of its operation; however, the projection failed to materialize, as Wilson lost $2.1 million in FY2008; $1.1 million in FY2009; $1.4 million in FY2010; $1.06 million in FY2011; and $1.3 million in FY2012.
In 2011, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a law (S.L. 2011-84) that protects taxpayers by barring local governments from using tax dollars to cross-subsidize other local accounts and requiring a vote of citizens to authorize new debt used to fund the broadband service. The law grandfathered the City of Wilson, North Carolina, and two other municipal broadband providers, but required them to follow the requirements set in the legislation if they attempted to expand their service. Wilson subsequently asked for a waiver from those rules, resulting in today’s FCC ruling.