Last summer, a group of the country’s largest telecom providers, including CenturyLink, filed a petition with the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C., to cut off access competitive broadband providers have to portions of their networks.
Independent broadband providers like Blackfoot Communications rely on portions of CenturyLink’s network to provide network connections to thousands of business customers.
Once the petition was filed, Blackfoot and many other competitive broadband providers lobbied the FCC opposing the petition. Blackfoot was no match for the large, well-oiled lobbying-machine of the nation’s largest telecom providers.
Consequently, getting Republican members of Congress to weigh-in against the interests of the largest telecom companies was surely a fool’s errand — or was it? By early summer, competitive broadband providers — having met with dozens of congressional offices — had given up on Republican support until one Congressman asked a seemingly innocuous question during an FCC oversight hearing.
The questioner asked the FCC chairman if he was aware that the Small Business Administration had concerns about the negative impact the petition would have on small businesses. The question surprised the FCC Chairman who indicated his agency was trying to work through those concerns. The Congressman emphasized that he hoped the FCC would be particularly mindful of the impact the proceeding could have on small businesses nationwide.
What is noteworthy about that question was that it came from the ONLY Republican in the House of Representatives to go on record against the nation’s largest telecom providers and in favor of small businesses. That member of Congress was Greg Gianforte. His willingness to ask the question encouraged other Republican members to weigh-in with the FCC against the petition. Soon afterwards, most of the petition was withdrawn, giving providers like Blackfoot the ability to continue to provide affordable services to Montana’s businesses.
Out in Washington, it can be gutsy to take a stand going against the grain. When taking such a stand is the right thing to do, a word of thanks is warranted, regardless of politics: Thank you, Congressman Gianforte, for your willingness to take a stand for competitive broadband providers and small businesses.
Jason Williams is CEO of Blackfoot Communications in Missoula.