Appellate Court Squashes FCC Municipal Broadband Ruling

The US Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said the Federal Communications Commission did not have the authority to override state laws that prevent municipalities from providing broadband Internet access.  Georgia isn’t necessarily affected by this ruling with a bill that would have prevented municipalities from offering broadband access failing passage during the 2013 legislative session.  The ruling, however, does recognize the fact that a federal agency’s power is limited by federal law. From the Verge:

The FCC had argued it had the power to preempt state law when it comes to “remov[ing] barriers to broadband investment and competition,” as is directed in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. However, the commission is not explicitly granted permission to overrule the states like this. And while government agencies are generally given deference to interpret their own powers where a law has left them unclear, the court determined that isn’t the case in this situation. That’s because it would be going so far as to overrule a state law, and that, the court said, requires an agency’s power to be clearly stated in federal law.

Chattanooga, specifically the public utility EPB, is directly affected by this ruling since there are state laws preventing them from providing broadband service beyond their utility district (a part of northwest Georgia is also within their service area, so we are benefactors to broadband service).  I would expect that big lobbying efforts from the big telecommunications lobby as well as EPB will be made in Nashville during the next legislative session to overturn the state law preventing EPB’s (and other municipality broadband providers) to service rural areas.

Affordable, reliable high-speed Internet access is becoming more and more of a necessity rather than a luxury.  In spite of what is being discussed on the campaign trail, we live and interact in a global society.  Social media, for better or worse, have shrunk the time of news traveling around from minutes to mere seconds.  Plus, educational and training opportunities are being enhanced through online resources.

Just because a small segment of our society wants us to put our heads in the sand, cut ourselves off from the rest of the world, and believe that making widgets will save our country doesn’t make it true.  We must face the reality that my generation (and those that come after us) will be competing with people in India and other folks around the globe and not just people down the road or in another state.

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and lollipops for cities who decide to make big public investments in fiber optic infrastructure.  Not all municipalities can be like Chattanooga, and the Georgia Public Policy Foundation offers up some sobering facts on some cities who over-estimated the popularity of a city-owned ISP but under-delivered.

What Alphabet is doing with its expansion of Google Fiber in different metro areas is a good thing for competition, and I hope they continue to spread across Georgia and give folks like Comcast, Windstream, Cox, and AT&T a run for their money.  And I believe that it’s worthwhile for cities to investigate the possibility of providing broadband access to see if it’s right with them (keeping in mind that poor execution or over-estimation of subscribers, of course).  I also hope that the Georgia General Assembly continues to look at how to improve broadband Internet access for all Georgians.  They’ve taken a good first step with the Joint High-Speed Broadband Communications Access for all Georgians Study Committee that Senator Steve Gooch (R-SD-51) helped push through this year and hope the conversation continues to drive forward.


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