Public Policy

Public policy is "messy" but understanding federal, state and policies and how they interrelate is important to community leaders interested in improving the availability of affordable broadband services in their community. The following information is intended to give you a basic understanding of telecommunication policy in the United States.

Public policies enacted at the federal, state and local levels affect the availability and delivery of broadband services to your community. These policies set the rules and regulations that impact how private businesses (phone companies, cable companies, Wireless Internet Service Providers, etc.) and governments can be involved in increasing the availability of broadband services across the country.

Public Policy Players

Public policy impacting broadband services (telecommunication law) is created at the federal, state and local levels. Federal laws supersede state and local regulations.

Federal Government

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is the law dealing with broadband infrastructure. This act was created to increase competition in the telecommunication industry and increase the availability of advanced (broadband) telecommunication services. Robert Crandall's "Competition and Chaos: U.S. Telecommunications Since the 1996 Telecom Act" is an excellent resource to understand the impact of the 1996 Telecommunication act on the delivery and availability of broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is the federal agency that has the most direct impact on broadband policy. This agency writes the rules to enforce the telecommunication act, collects and analyzes data to predict future policy issues surrounding policy issues.

State Government

Many states have created legislation that covers areas not specifically touched on in federal law. Examples of state laws that influence broadband include allowing or prohibiting local government to deliver broadband services, laws dealing with the use of public right of ways for broadband infrastructure and spelling out the rights of local governments to require franchises for delivery of video and broadband services. The Community Broadband Networks website provides up-to-date information on current and pending state and national telecommunication policies.

Every state has a public utility commission that regulates the rates and services of utilities. Faced with issues of unequal access and price many local officials are thinking of ways to get their communities connected without waiting for the traditional providers. Efforts to implement municipal broadband delivery have sparked a great deal of state level information policy activity. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, have passed bills that prevent local communities from offering competitive broadband services.

Private Sector

The telecommunication industries are very active players in the policy arena. Larger telephone, cable companies and telecommunication equipment companies hire lobbyists to represent their interests to federal and state policy makers and administrations. Some argue that lobbying by special interest groups results in laws that benefit large corporations and do not take the public into consideration. Citizens groups representing the public argue that they cannot afford full-time lobbyists and policy making tends to be influenced more by corporations than by average citizens or small groups. Some lawmakers argue that lobbyists actually help to inform those voting on pending bills about the impact on various segments of society. Lobbyists have been part of politics our political system for more than 200 years and will likely continue. The Center for Public Integrity maintains a Web site that tracks lobbying activities on broadcast, cable and telecommunication industries in each state.


Citizens can impact telecommunication policy by staying informed about the issue, contacting their elected representatives, and at the ballot box. Citizens can become involved in the policy process through public interest groups. These groups often claim to be non-partisan but each group has its own agenda and may have a political leaning. The following public interest groups focus on telecommunications and information policy: