Tennessee Man Builds His Own Gigabit Network Thanks To State's Protectionist Broadband Law

from the protect-the-status-quo dept

We’ve noted how Tennessee is one of twenty states that has passed state laws, quite literally written by companies like AT&T, prohibiting towns and cities from wiring themselves with broadband — even if nobody else will. When the FCC announced it would be taking aim at these protectionist broadband laws last year, Tennessee politicians threw a hissy fit, suing the FCC for “violating states rights.” That incumbent ISPs are being allowed to write awful state law that’s hampering a generation of business development in the state? Not apparently much of a concern.

As an unsurprising result, Tennessee remains one of the least connected broadband states in the nation, and state residents have increasingly been giving beholden state politicians an earful. Those who can, like Tennessee developer John “Thunder” Thornton, have started taking matters into their own hands and building their own gigabit networks. To do so, Thorton had to get the aid of a power cooperative in Alabama, a state that has a slightly less restrictive municipal broadband law in place:

“Unable to gain high-speed broadband at what he deemed an affordable price from AT&T or Charter Communications and limited from service extensions from EPB’s ultra-fast Internet in Chattanooga, Thornton created his own Internet service provider last year. The private developer spent more than $400,000 to build his own fiber network and link it with a power cooperative in Stevenson, Ala., where fast broadband is available.”

According to Thorton, the money he spent to wire his hilltop development cost a third of what AT&T was charging:

“Thornton said when he approached AT&T about providing Gig service to Jasper Highlands he was quoted a price of $1.3 million to serve his mountaintop development ? more than three times what it ended up costing Thornton to build his own network connected to Alabama.

“Our costs are much less, but then I don’t have to pay for 27 lobbyists in Nashville like AT&T does,” Thornton quipped.

So yeah, Tennessee lawmakers have done such a bang up job letting AT&T write awful state telecommunications law, state residents are being forced to spend their own money to get broadband at a relatively sane price. Sadly, most of the people that can’t get decent broadband can’t afford to go Thorton’s route. And while you’d think the cacophony of complaints from Tennessee residents would be enough to get some movement in the state legislature after a decade, all recent efforts to overturn the state’s protectionist law have gone nowhere.

Tennessee’s law prevents a popular Chattanooga-based utility-run ISP, EPB, from expanding its up to 10 Gbps offerings into any more markets. But attempts to repeal the law earlier this year went nowhere after mammoth pressure from incumbent ISP lobbyists. When that didn’t work, one lawmaker tried to pass a compromise bill that would have allowed EPB to expand into just one neighboring county. That proposal was shot down as well, one of the dissenting votes being that of Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, a former AT&T executive.

That leaves the FCC as the best, current option in getting some of these miserable laws overturned.

As it stands, the FCC is arguing that Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act allows it to preempt state laws that conflict with the agency’s Congressional mandate to guarantee “reasonable and timely” broadband deployment. While there’s twenty such laws, the FCC is currently trying to overturn just two: in Tennessee and North Carolina; the hope being the legal precedent then rolls downhill. But both states have taken the FCC to court, bravely defending their right to take campaign contributions — in exchange for protecting incumbent broadband providers from necessary and inevitable evolution.

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Comments on “Tennessee Man Builds His Own Gigabit Network Thanks To State's Protectionist Broadband Law”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

The 'rights' of the states, more important than the rights of those living in them apparently

When the FCC announced it would be taking aim at these protectionist broadband laws last year, Tennessee politicians threw a hissy fit, suing the FCC for “violating states rights.”

So to sum up:

Private companies writing and effectively buying protectionist laws to screw over the public = A ‘right’ of the state, or more accurately it’s politicians.

The FCC stepping in and trying to remove the bought and paid for protectionist laws so that competition, whether from outside companies or local groups can enter the area = Absolute violation of the rights of politicians to sell out those they are supposed to be representing.

Yeah, that ‘rights’ violation is certainly a vile act of the FCC there, how dare they step between politicians and those giving them money and try to protect the public! /s

Cal says:

Re: The 'rights' of the states, more important than the rights of those living in them apparently

From the Contract that all who serve within the Tennessee government are under and Oath bound to.

Tennessee Constitution. Article I. Declaration of Rights.
Section 1. That all power is inherent in the people, and all free governments are founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and happiness; for the advancement of those ends they have at all times, an unalienable and indefeasible right to alter, reform, or abolish the government in such manner as they may think proper.

Section 2. That government being instituted for the common benefit, the doctrine of nonre-sistance against arbitrary power and oppression is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

Article 2. Section 17. Bills may originate in either House; but may be amended, altered or rejected by the other. (Senate and House of Representatives)

Originate means to start, conceive, bring into existence. That means that ALL legislation that are LAWFULLY binding on the Tennessee people MUST originate from their Senate and House of Representatives. Any other law/code/regulation/etc MUST come from them, be created by them as the peoples representatives who are put there for the PEOPLE of Tennessee’s will and representative. But that is up to them to even know what the contracts that those that serve within the Tennessee government are under says they may do and what they are forbidden to do = the US Constitution (short document) and the Tennessee Constitution.

Anonymous Coward says:

The state residents have the key to this issue in their hands...

But don’t seem to want to use it. The fact is that if the voters were willing to organize themselves (and possibly inject a new “anti-ATT” party), this problem wouldn’t continue to be a problem. To some extent the people are getting what they deserve.

It’s a sad comment on the state of American democracy that people will vote for representatives that so betray their voters.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: The state residents have the key to this issue in their hands...

…It’s a sad comment on the state of American democracy that people will vote for representatives that so betray their voters…

American democracy had been in a sad state for quite some time given the choices we get. Especially when all the candidates suck and we end up voting for who sucks the least.

Whatever (profile) says:

big question

One of the big questions unanswered in this story is the costs for rights to use the poles and to traverse properties and such. I have a feeling that John asking his friends at the power co-op for a little space was cheaper and easier than it would have been for AT&T.

I have no proof (sorry Paul) but my guess would be that a whole lot of his reduced costs come in savings by being “john asked fred” and the rest in not charging off manpower to the project.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: big question

$900,000 cheaper? Not likely.

If anything a large company like AT&T should have been able to do it much cheaper because they know exactly what to do and have the resources to get it done easier. That despite that he was still able to provide the same service at a third of what they were asking for indicates that they were heavily padding the bill, either to dissuade him for whatever reason or simply because they thought he had no other choice but to pay. Personally I’m hoping for the latter, as were that the case it would seem their greed backfired on them to the tune of at least $400,000.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: big question

Well, two things sort of strike me in this:

First, I gotta wonder what he is paying for bandwidth. I had a friend of mine many moons ago who moved his hosting company from a big city to the middle of BF nowhere because some co-op had gotten a government grant to get an OC-48 line in (which was big at the time), and they didn’t have any use for it at all. The pretty much gave him the line in return for making it work for them and giving a couple of locals jobs swapping out power supplies and such. Is this guy paying the true cost of bandwidth?

Also, gotta wonder if he has TRUE gigabit connectivity, or if his local network is gigabit but shared. It’s easy to connect people at a 1 gig speed, but if they group together onto another single gig connection, is that really gig speed? If he has 300 consumers, does the Co-op in fact have 300 gigs of connectivity?

In the end, does his deal actually measure up?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: big question

From the source article:

Using the fiber optic system that the North Alabama Electric Coop created to help set up a Google data site at the shuttered Widows Creek coal plant, Thornton announced Thursday his Jasper Highlands near Kimball, Tenn., is now able to offer high-speed, gigabit-per-second Internet service for all home sites in his 3,000-acre complex.

Monthly rates for Hi-Tech Data’s services compare to EPB’s prices at $69 for 100 Mbps and $79 for 1 Gig. Thornton said the new Internet service provider— now the only provider in the area— supports future expansion to neighboring residents and also encourages competitors to enter the market in the region.

Unless I’m misreading it, whatever he’s paying it’s low enough that he can make a profit off of sell a connection comparable to EPB elsewhere in the state, and solid enough to serve all the homes in the area. Even if it turns out not to be quite as good as what AT&T might have been able to offer, bypassing them allowed him to save $900,000, leaving him plenty to work with to upgrade the network as needed, to spend on other things, or simply to pocket.

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 big question

It doesn’t answer the question: Is it true gig internet end to end, or is gig just the “connection speed” from the home to the first node? It’s incredibly easy to claim gigabit service, and the only part of that service being the short distance from the home to the node. After that, you could have 300 homes sharing a single gig connection back to the co-op. Nothing in here says otherwise.

Ryunosuke (profile) says:

can someone ELI5

“The first section of the Act reads: “For the purpose of regulating interstate and foreign commerce in communication by wire and radio so as to make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States a rapid, efficient, nationwide, and worldwide wire and radio communication service with adequate facilities at reasonable charges, for the purpose of the national defense, and for the purpose of securing a more effective execution of this policy by centralizing authority theretofore granted by law to several agencies and by granting additional authority with respect to interstate and foreign commerce in wire and radio communication, there is hereby created a commission to be known as the ‘Federal Communications Commission’, which shall be constituted as hereinafter provided, and which shall execute and enforce the provisions of this Act.”[1]” — Communications Act of 1934 via Wikipedia.

The reason I ask, is that broadband is “Communications by wire (Landline) or Radio (Wireless)”.

Reasonable charges part is also confusing, How is paying 2…3x what the world is paying for a mere fraction of the service “reasonable”?

And then the last bit, about the law specifically granting that authority to the FCC by said law.

My question is… on what grounds is AT&T (Et Al.) arguing that the FCC overstepped their authority, when it is specifically GRANTED that authority, BY WORD, in it’s very charter, from 1932?

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: can someone ELI5

My question is… on what grounds is AT&T (Et Al.) arguing that the FCC overstepped their authority, when it is specifically GRANTED that authority, BY WORD, in it’s very charter, from 1932?

You hit on part of it with your questioning of x3 pricing being ‘reasonable’, the problem is that depending on who’s making the argument terms like ‘reasonable, ‘adequate’, ‘rapid’ and ‘efficient’ can be stretched almost to the breaking point, and if the argument is being presented to a politician who has a financial reason to want to stay on the good side of the cable companies…

It’s similar to how the cable companies have argued that theoretically being available in a given area counts as ‘serving’ it, allowing them to technically fulfill contracts while not even coming close in practice.

Anonymous Coward says:

Does the law prohibit cities or citizens to create their own ISP? The one guy did it so I assume it doesn’t.
That means in theory 1000+ people in a city or even the whole city could create an ISP and create their own network.

That would create at least a bit of competition and each citizen would know exactly how much it costs to run something like this so they can adjust prices accordingly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Why dont other services get this treatment?

A public bus service takes away income from cab companies, a city owned bar takes away income from a privately owned bar, police take away income from private security, etc…

Why is a city owned network getting jumped on when there are dozens of other services that dont??

Couldn’t someone (to prove a point) just accuse a big Tennessee towns bus service of stealing business and then try to shut it down in order to get some coverage on just how dumb these protectionist laws are?

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