The Republican-led House of Representatives recently
attached an amendment to a funding bill that would stop the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) from preventing state prohibitions on
city-owned internet service providers.
This is a bit of a complicated issue because we are dealing
with so many layers of government.
From the standpoint of a liberty advocate, it is best to promote the
free market in all areas, including internet service. But if there is going to be government involvement, then
decentralization is better than centralization.
The city of Chattanooga in Tennessee provides high-speed
fiber optic networks for residents and businesses at a cost of about $70 per
month, and it is much faster than the average internet service. But the city is prevented by state law
in expanding its services to nearby communities.
Telecommunication companies are against such city-owned
operations because they complain that they can’t compete. Unsurprisingly, these companies favor
state laws to prohibit city-owned internet providers.
The FCC is trying to intervene in favor of the cities. The Republicans in the U.S. House are
trying to stop the FCC from intervening.
When you have this much of a tangled mess, it is hard to
figure out the pro-liberty position.
May Be Right Here
I have no idea the motives of the politicians in the U.S.
House who support this amendment to prevent the FCC from interfering. My guess is that a lot of them are
supporting this amendment because they are supporting big telecommunication
companies. My guess is that this
is more cronyism than it is principle.
But this also doesn’t make the Republicans and the
supporters of this amendment wrong.
They might be right for the wrong reasons. From a constitutional standpoint, they are right that the
FCC should really not get involved.
The FCC is saying that cities should be able to restrict
competition from community broadband if it is being done by elected local
officials on behalf of the people.
In other words, the FCC doesn’t think the state should be
telling the city what to do. They
are advocating decentralization by having a federal agency (itself) tell state
governments what they can and can’t do.
This is one of those difficult issues for those in the
pro-liberty camp because it is almost a choice between centralization of
government and stifling competition.
In regards to providing internet service, it may sound
strange that a liberty advocate would be supporting city-owned internet
providers. But it isn’t support
for government, even at the local level.
It is support for decentralization. I would rather have competing models between cities than
have one uniform state law that every city must abide by. Likewise, it is better to have various
state models than one federal law dictating how 300 million people will live
The other interesting point about this whole story is that
there is not much of a free market anyway with internet providers. It is no more free market to have a
city grant a monopoly to one private company as it is for the city to act as
the internet provider.
As technology gets better and better, I hope this debate
becomes a thing of the past eventually.
I hope that internet providers become something like the Post Office is
becoming, which is obsolete.
There is politics coming at us from all angles here and
let’s hope that technology eventually makes all of this politics obsolete.