FCC Commissioner Wheeler: The Telecom Tyrant?

WASHINGTON D.C., Thursday, September 4th – Today during a speech at 1776, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler expressed intentions that Digital Liberty believes clearly overstep FCC authority.

The following comments can be attributed to Katie McAuliffe, Executive Director of Digital Liberty:

"Federal Communications Commissioner Tom Wheeler's speech today and his previous speeches regarding his position on the FCC's authority to preempt state law prohibiting Municipal broadband, is an affront to democracy.  

How is it that an unelected bureaucrat can interfere with state budgets and expand his own power beyond the direction of Congress?  Whether you support municipal broadband or not is not the question.  This is tyrannical.  

The comment period with the FCC regarding Title II regulation of the Internet and state positions on municipal broadband have not even closed yet.  Clearly, the FCC considering comments is a farce."

His speech reaffirmed the position he expressed at the April 2014 Cable Show, a cable industry convention, where Wheeler clearly stated his belief that the FCC could preempt state laws:

"One place where [broadband competition] may be possible is municipally owned or authorized broadband systems. I understand that the experience with community broadband is mixed, that there have been both successes and failures. But if municipal governments—the same ones that granted cable franchises—want to pursue it, they shouldn’t be inhibited by state laws. I have said before, that I believe the FCC has the power—and I intend to exercise that power—to preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband."

Today in his speech at 1776,  Wheeler did not expressly say that the FCC would begin actions against states, but in the opinion of Digital Liberty, the words between the lines reveal an unelected bureaucrat ready to overstep boundaries set by Congress.  

"…we understand the petitions from two communities asking us to pre-empt state laws against citizen-driven broadband expansion to be in the same category, which is why we are looking at that question so closely." 

Digital Liberty believes that when he says "where meaningful competition is not present," in the quote below he is reaffirming his position to  preempt state law prohibiting municipal broadband:

"…We must try our best – companies and communities, incumbents and insurgents – to foster more competition. The best answer for limited competition is more competition, plain and simple.

There is no doubt that regulation, even when necessary, imposes costs.  Especially in a fast-moving sector, it is important that companies be free to develop better networks and to attract the investment necessary to do so.

Yet, let’s remember that no company should be held immune from the competition that drives such investment.  As the same time, no company should be protected from public interest obligations, especially where meaningful competition is not present…"

He claims that high speed mobile connections are not a competition in the broadband space: "We have great hopes for wireless as a potential substitute for fixed broadband connections. But today it seems clear that mobile broadband is just not a full substitute for fixed broadband." Digital Liberty does not agree with this assessment at all.

Digital Liberty finds Wheeler’s prerogatives offensive to all Americans.  Whether they support municipal broadband or not, the FCC does not have the authority to preempt state laws.  Congress did not give the FCC power to do this. 

For more background on Title II and Municipal Broadband, please see the linked brief overviews below.  In addition, linked below are Americans for Tax Reform and Digital Liberty's comments on Title II, and Digital Liberty's comments on Municipal Broadband:

Title II Primer

Municipal Broadband Primer

ATR & DigLib Title II FCC Comments

DigLib Municipal Broadband FCC Comments