Posted By: Joesph Van Eaton, Partner, Miller & Van Eaton, PLLC
Everyone’s asking for gift hints, so I created a list of things I’d like to see in the New Year as a communications attorney representing municipalities:
1. A Federal Communications Commission that gets out of Washington more, and bases its decisions on facts, not lobbyist fancies. The FCC, like many agencies, hears more from those it is supposed to regulate than those who it is supposed to protect. I’d like to see the FCC establish stronger relationships with local governments by appointing more local government representatives to a revitalized Intergovernmental Advisory Committee that might help coordinate approaches to telecommunications regulation and broadband…and I’d like to see the FCC Commissioners spend more time in the field finding out how folks are dealing with broadband/wireless issues at the local level. An FCC that looks beyond the Potomac could quickly dispose of items like the CTIA’s wireless petition, which seeks to establish federal standards for local wireless tower zoning processes.
2. States revisiting legislation limiting local control over cable systems. It has become clear that the state legislation, ostensibly passed to promote competition, has not promoted competition, does not adequately protect consumers against abuses like those in Florida, where operators relocated public, educational and government channels to digital service tiers; and is not well-designed to ensure that the public’s needs and interests are met over the long term. State laws need to be amended to reflect the fact that in return for right to use valuable public property, companies need to assume public obligations – and those need to be easily enforceable, and they need to reflect changes in technology. One solution: reinvigorate local controls.
4. A broad recognition that it may be important for local government to provide critical components of the information highway – either by itself, or in conjunction with new entities that are willing to build open infrastructure. At a time when we desperately need a wider roll-out of fiber we should recognize (as recent developments in North Carolina attest) that local governments can successfully provide vital infrastructure in a way that brings broad benefits to local communities. Local governments need to look closely at evolving opportunities for using existing resources to provide broadband to the community.
5. An adjustment to existing laws to reflect the new digital world. Existing federal and state laws were written on the assumption that voice is different from video, which is different from data….and that these could be regulated separately. This has led to disjointed policies including a broad tax exemption for one type of service (Internet access) which leaves other businesses to bear burdens of supporting local government. As the world goes digital, it may be time to revisit distinctions and exemptions, in light of some basic principles including the following: all communications companies that use public resources, like local rights of way, should pay fair compensation for their use; our communications networks have to provide real opportunities for the public, educators and government to receive and distribute information freely. Want other ideas? Check out NATOA’s broadband principles.