The Federal Communications Commission today voted to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories.
The action is a year in the making. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced in February 2014 his intention to override state laws designed to protect private cable companies and telcos from public sector competition. Wheeler took his cue from the federal appeals court ruling that overturned net neutrality rules; tucked away in that decision was one judge’s opinion that the FCC has the authority to preempt “state laws that prohibit municipalities from creating their own broadband infrastructure to compete against private companies.”
Nineteen states have such laws, often passed at the behest of private Internet service providers that didn’t want to face competition. Communities in two of the states asked the FCC to take action. The City of Wilson, North Carolina and the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga, Tennessee filed the petitions that led to today’s FCC action. Each offers broadband service to residents and received requests for service from people in nearby towns, but they alleged that state laws made it difficult or impossible for them to expand.
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