Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project

Municipal Broadband

Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY
- Broadband
- Sec. 706
- Stimulus Plan
- Natl BB Map
- FCC Natl Broadband Plan
- Dial Up
- - Naked DSL
- - UNE
- - Net over Wireline (Info Service)
- Cable
- - Open Access
- Fiber
- Wireless
- - 3G
- - Wifi
- - WiMax
- - 700 Mhz
- Powerline
- Satellite
- Muni Broadband
- - Reference
- Telecom Services
- Computer Inquiries
- Network Neutrality
- Forbearance
- Backbones
- Layers
- Interconnection
- - Negotiation
- Reciprocal Comp
- Mergers
- Federal Advisory Committees
- Universal Service
- Statistics: Broadband

"Cities are [taking advantage of broadband technology.] Spokane, Washington, yesterday established a wi-fi hot zone that allows users within a hundred block area of the city to obtain wireless broadband access. Imagine if you’re the head of a chamber of commerce of a city, and you say, ‘Gosh, our city is a great place to do business or to find work. We’re setting up a wi-fi hot zone, which means our citizens are more likely to be more productive than the citizens from a neighboring community.’ It’s a great opportunity . . . [T]his is a very exciting opportunity for the country. - The White House, President Bush: High Tech Improving Economy, Health Care, Education (June 24, 2004).

“I think we do a grave injustice in trying to hobble municipalities. Why don’t we encourage [municipal broadband] instead of having bills introduced [saying] – ‘Oh, you can’t do this because it’s interfering with somebody’s idea of the functioning marketplace’ – but the marketplace is not functioning in those places. - Michael Copps, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission

To put this in context, imagine if Borders and Barnes & Noble, claiming it was killing their book sales, asked lawmakers to ban cities from building libraries. The legislators would laugh them out of the State House. Yet the same thing is happening right now with respect to Wi-Fi and other municipal broadband plans, and it is being taken all too seriously. - Municipal Broadband: Should Cities Have a Voice, Jon Leibowitz, FTC Commissioner Sept. 2005

History: Municipality involvement in communications has a long history.



Debating Municipal Broadband with Christopher Mitchell June 19, 2008
Community Fiber Networks Are Faster, Cheaper Than Incumbents

Killer Applications: The use of VoIP has been described as a killer application for Muni Wifi. [Aaron Kaplan, Funkfeuer Network presented at NAF (Feb. 6 2008)] It could present a compelling alternative to over priced mobile telephone service with the use of such things as Skype Wifi phones.

States (this chart is out of date)

Municipalities are under the authority of state governments. Therefore, state governments can say whether or not it is permissible for a municipality to offer broadband services. This is true even though the Telecommunications Act of 1996, 47 USC 253(a), stated that no state could prohibit "any entity" from offering telecommunications service. The Supreme Court in Missouri Municipal League v. Nixon (SCt 2003) upheld that a municipality is not an "any entity" and that a state could limit the municipalities authority.

A plethora of states have passed laws restricting, conditioning, or prohibiting municipalies from offering broadband services. Some of these laws constitute nothing more than "don't stick your finger in your eye." These are requirements that states do due diligence, find out what the demand for broadband is and find out what service providers currently offer service in their market. Other states out right ban municipal action. And then there is the truly wierd Pennsylvania law which gives Verizon the right to veto any municipality, except Philadelphia, from offering broadband. Jim Baller points out that in the year 2005, there was a backlash against these laws; of the 14 legislative proposals introduced in 2005 to place barriers in the way of municipal broadband, 13 failed.

  • Baller Herbst Law Group: Status of State Barriers Proposed in 2005 and 2006 >
  • There is an important twist to these municipal broadband laws. Many of these laws prohibit the offering of "telecommunications service." However, as demonstrated in the Supreme Court case BrandX, broadband Internet services are information services, not telecommunications service. Thus, a law that prohibts telecommunications service would not block the offering of broadband Internet services by a municipality.

    Service Restriction
    Alabama       Scottsboro (c)
    Sylaugua (f)
    Arkansas Prohibited basic local exchange service Exchange service prohibited. Facilities may be provided after hearing. Paragould (c)
    Arizona       Chandler (w)
    Phoenix (w)
    Tempe (w)

    Anaheim (w)
    Cupertino (w)
    Fullerton (w)
    Hermosa Beach (w)
    Loma Linda (f)
    Lompoc (w)
    Long Beach (w)
    Palo Alto (f)
    San Francisco (w)
    San Manteo (w)
    Santa Clara (w)
    Sunnyvale (w)

    Colorado Regulated Cable, Telecom and advanced services Referendum required before entrance. Denver
    District of Columbia       Broadband Bridge (CN)
    Florida Regulated Communications service

    Referendum, hearings, and business plan required before entrance

    Required annual hearing to report on Muni's progress towards objectives.

    Gainsville (f)
    Lake County (f)
    Orlando (w)
    Miami Beach (w)
    Quincy (f)
    St. Cloud (w)
    Georgia       Adel (w)
    Atlanta (w)
    Dalton (f)
    Houston County (w)
    Hawaii       Honolulu
    Illinois     Referendum required?? Aurora (w)
    Indiana       Auburn (f)
    Fort Wayne (w)
    Scottsburg (w)
    Iowa Regulated Local Exchange Service Referendum required before entrance; rules against subsidization

    Cedar Falls (f)
    Harlan (c)
    Spenser (f)

    Kansas       Western (w)
    Wheatland Electric Cooperative
    Kentucky       Glasgow (c)
    Owensboro (w)
    Louisiana Regulated Cable, Telecom, or Advanced Services Referendum required before entrance Lafayette (f)
    New Orleans (w)
    Vivian (w)
    New Mexico       Rio Ranch (w)
    Maine Regulated    
    Maryland       Allegany County (w)
    Caroline County
    Talbot County
    Washington County
    Massachusetts       Brookline
    Michigan Regulated Telecommunications services Must solicit competitive private sector bids before entrance Grand Haven (w)
    Grand Rapids
    Minnesota Regulated Telephone exchange Referendum required before entrance Buffalo (w)
    Chaska (w)
    Minneapolis (w)
    Windom (f)
    Missouri Prohibited Telecom facilities or service (Internet type services explicitly permitted)   Carthage
    Nevada (w)
    North Kansas (f)
    Nebraska Partial Prohibition Broadband, telecom, internet services Public power utilities may offer the service; no other public entity may. Municipalities may offer dark fiber.
    New Mexico       Sandoval County (w)
    Rio Rancho (w)
    New York       New York City Wireless (w)
    Nevada Prohibited Telecom Service Prohibition is based on size; Wholesale only
    Ohio Regulated    

    Akron (w)
    Cincinnati (w)
    Cuyahoga Falls (w)
    Dalton (f)
    Dublin (w)
    Lebanon (HFC)

    Oklahoma       Sallisaw (f)
    Oregon       Ashland (f)
    Portland (w)
    The Dalles (f)
    Pennsylvania Restricted   Incumbent service provider has right of first refusal Flinton
    Kutztown (f)
    Philadelphia (w)
    South Carolina Regulated Telecom Service No subsidies; cost accounting restrictions Charleston
    South Dakota       City of Timber Lake
    Tennessee Regulated Cable, video, telecom, or Internet services Office of Comptroller must prepare a report before entry Jackson (f)
    Texas Regulated    

    Addison (w)
    Austin (w)
    Burleson (w)
    Corpus Christi (w)
    Farmers Branch (w)
    Granbury (w)
    Houston (w)
    Linden (w)
    Plano (w)
    South Lake (w)

    Utah Restricted Cable or telecom services Retail offering prohibited. May do it wholesale. Hold hearing, conduct feasibility study, have legislative body adopt the feasibility study before entry iProvo (f)
    Spanish Fork
    UTOPIA (f)
    Vermont       Island Pond (w)
    Montpelier (w)
    Virginia Regulated Telecom Service Must acquire certificate, have open facilities, and comply with accounting rules

    Alexandria (w)
    Arlington (w)
    Bristol (f)
    Dickenson (w)
    Manassas (bpl)

    Washington Restricted Telecom services Provide wholesale only Benton County (w)
    Chelan (f)
    Clallam (f)
    Douglas (f)
    Grant (f)
    Mason Counties (f)
    Pasco (w)
    Tacoma (f)
    West Virginia      
    Wisconsin Regulated Cable, Telecom, or Broadband services Hold a hearing with a financial report, or referendum, or survey finds no service providers, or offers only facilities - and uses revenue to replay cost Jackson (w)
    Reedsburg (f)
    Waupaca (w)

    Key:: Prohibited : Entrance is not allowed :: Restricted : Entrance is only partly allowed :: Regulated : Entrance allowed if conditions are met ::

    See February 2006 list of US cities and regions Wifi Muni Wifi PDF

    Network Neutrality

    Some Municipality RFPs have explicitly stated Network Neutrality as a condition. See SF RFP Sec. 2.1 PDF

    The Network Operator shall promote the open and interconnected nature of the public Internet by operating the Network in a neutral manner that ensures consumers are entitled to:
    • Run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law
    • Access the lawful Internet content of their choice
    • Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network
    • Competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.

    Community Networks

    Similar to municipal networks, these are local networks that are organized by the grassroots local communities instead of by the municipalities and local governments. Some of this movement emphasizes on ad hoc mesh networks.