February 28th the Federal Communications Commission issued two decisions. One concerned net neutrality, the other municipal broadband. The first garnered by far the most attention, as it should. Net neutrality affects everyone and establishes a fundamental new principle for Internet access.
But as another presidential campaign looms the FCC decision on municipally owned broadband may offer more fertile ground for a vigorous political debate on the role of government and the scale of governance.
The decision arose from a petition to the FCC by Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina asking it to overturn state laws that prevent them from extending their highly successful publicly owned networks to surrounding communities eager to connect. The FCC’s decision affects just those two states’ laws but will undoubtedly become a precedent to evaluate most of the other 17 states’ restrictions on municipal broadband.
Republicans grumbled at the net neutrality decision but they positively shrieked their dismay when the FCC ruled in favor of local authority. Within hours of the vote Republicans introduced a bill stripping the FCC of its authority to do so. A year ago Republicans introduced a similar bill that would have prevented the FCC from even taking up the issue. That bill passed the House. Republicans voted  221-4 in favor. The bill died in the Senate.
The Economic Argument: Protecting Shareholders and Taxpayers
Republicans marshal both economic and political arguments in their case against public networks. The economic argument is simply put: By pre-empting local authority Republicans are protecting shareholders from unfair competition and taxpayers from unwise investments by local governments.