Cities and small towns throughout the U.S. are thriving on high-speed internet. The ultrafast connectivity deployed by America's broadband providers is transforming economies, businesses, education, healthcare, and entertainment, and strengthening relationships through online interactions. The gigabit era has arrived, and thanks to cable's investment in infrastructure, 74 percent of its footprint now has gigabit service available. Each year, the speeds offered by cable ISPs get significantly faster and the networks even more robust.
But even prior to internet (and video) services reaching people's homes, there are a lot of steps that ISPs have to complete before state and local authorities allow them to deploy their network, such as securing cable franchises to access the public rights-of-way. Congress set limits on the amount of compensation that cable operators can be charged for this access, to be sure that cable operators will continue to invest in their networks and offer new products and services. Unfortunately, at the same time that cable operators are investing in their networks to expand the services they are offering consumers, some local franchises are also abusing the local and state franchising process by demanding that cable operators obtain extra authorizations or licenses and pay extra fees when they offer broadband and other services over the cable network, even though the operators have previously already paid them a fee for their network to be in the rights-of-way.
Government authorities also ask for substantial "in kind" contributions, like free services, free advertising, free channels for their programming, and even for extra "voluntary" cash contributions—and won't grant access to the rights-of-way unless these demands are met. Together, these requirements add up to an amount well beyond the fee cap that Congress established. The process that was intended to encourage the deployment of services to strengthen communities is instead placing an unnecessary burden on cable operators that threatens to hinder their ability to innovate and expand their services.
The FCC has wisely recognized the need to curb these government abuses, and has commenced a rulemaking to force government authorities to comply with the statute. In comments filed with the FCC this week, NCTA supported the FCC's effort to ensure that state and local governments abide by the franchise fee limits. As stated in the comments, by limiting state and local regulations, "the Commission will promote broadband deployment and related advanced digital services, further a competitive market for the delivery of video services, and protect consumers against excessive fees."
ISPs' network upgrades are the reason why consumers can access and experience a multitude of new high-end technology services, including AR, VR, and 4K TV, on multiple devices and with multiple people in a home. Over the coming years, cable operators will consider investments of billions of dollars more to keep expanding and upgrading their wireline and wireless networks—all to offer new high-end technology and services to consumers. This path forward, however, is not viable if ISPs are punished with new fees for deploying the very services that are allowing for progress and change.
That is why we are urging the FCC to adopt its proposals to enforce Congress' intent and eradicate franchising abuse by authorities. Doing so will clear the way for innovation, and for even more high-speed broadband connections and rich and transformative consumer experiences.
For more details, read NCTA's comments here.