International Municipal Lawyers Association - Local Government Blog

| December 24, 2008

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.

3.   An FCC and Congress that don’t give away the farm as they try to plow the fields for broadband development. There is real risk that the enthusiasm for broadband deployment (and accompanying federal subsidies) may take the form of unregulated expansion of natural monopoly platforms, effectively mortgaging the future of the next generation as the owners of the platforms resist any regulation and extract monopoly prices and conditions from all who must use the information highways of the future. Rapid deployment should be accompanied by real service, deployment, and fair terms of use and pricing. It doesn’t work to let the baby alligator grow up, assuming we can wrestle it into submission once it starts feeding on our children. We should develop and adopt a plan to encourage development of broadband infrastructure but do so in a way that ensures that the money is placed into the ground, and that encourages the development of affordable, open networks…Free Press has some interesting ideas.

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.


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This blog is made possible by the International Municipal Lawyers Association (IMLA), but may include guest bloggers (who are attorneys with experience in local government matters) who might or might not work for IMLA. Their views (and those expressed on this site) do not necessarily express the views of IMLA.

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