It’s going to be harder, or impossible, for cities to expand their own broadband networks if state governments oppose it. Today the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals struck down an FCC order from 2015 that allowed cities in Tennessee and North Carolina to extend their own networks outside city boundaries, despite state laws banning it. Wilson, North Carolina and the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga, Tennessee operate services for their own communities but wanted to expand to other towns where residents were complaining of crummy Internet speeds and pricing.
The FCC sided with the towns, saying it could pre-empt state law using 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which requires the FCC to encourage broadband development. (This is the same law the FCC used to justify its original two attempts at net neutrality regulation, before switching tactics to classify broadband a a public utility.)
Of course, a circuit court isn’t the last word in a legal case, and it may apply only to its jurisdiction. The FCC shows no sign of giving up the fight. “We will consider all our legal and policy options to remove barriers to broadband deployment wherever they exist so that all Americans can have access to 21st Century communications,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a press release. (by Sean Captain)MB