Telecommunications/Cable Franchise Update

Christy K. Monson

From our Winter 2019 e-newsletter

A while back some of you may have received an email from the League of Oregon Cities explaining that the Federal Communications Commission was in the process of taking testimony about how cities and other local governments collect fees from cable and telecom companies for the use municipal right of way (ROW). Specifically, the LOC (along with many government advocates around the nation) is concerned that the FCC may try to undo federal law protection of a municipality’s right to charge reasonable ROW fees. In filings before the FCC, some cable and telecom companies have alleged that cities throughout the nation, including those in Oregon, were being unfair or obstructionist in the way they granted permission to use the ROW.

To provide a fair response to these corporate allegations and to protect all cities’ rights to manage ROWs, the City of Independence asked us to file responsive comments at the FCC, which we did. In doing so, we worked closely with the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors. Our comments focused on five primary arguments:

  • Small cities are business-friendly and are dedicated to providing ready-access to the ROW on a non-discriminatory basis. It’s untrue that rural or small cities somehow slow down or serve as a barrier to expansion of the internet. Fast internet, reliable cable, VOIP, and video-streaming are crucial lifelines for small or rural cities. No one understands this better than a small city.
  • Cities cannot be responsible stewards of our public resources and grant private companies unregulated, free access to the ROW. Reasonable, fair municipal regulations require companies to follow a simple application process and pay fair ROW fees, which the federal law says may be based on the types of services they provide.
  • Cities are dedicated to treating all ROW users fairly and non-discriminatorily. This is true whether a company is providing only cable or whether a company is providing cable, internet, and/or VOIP. All we ask is that these companies follow our ROW rules and pay a fair fee for such use.
  • If municipalities showed favoritism and allowed those cable companies who also provide internet and VOIP to pay less than other providers, it would create an uneven playing field. This lack of competition would likely artificially increase cable and internet services in rural America.
  • The FCC must honor municipal franchise agreements which have been negotiated in good faith. The FCC should not take any act which retroactively amends or penalizes municipalities for responsibly managing their ROW in compliance with existing law and for the good of our communities.