Town Loses Gigabit Connections After FCC Municipal Broadband Court Loss
from the don't-build-it-and-they-won't-come dept
Back in February the FCC voted to use its Congressional mandate to ensure speedy broadband deployment to dismantle protectionist state laws intentionally designed to hinder broadband competition. But the FCC recently found itself swatted down by the courts, which argued the agency lacks the authority to pre-empt even the worst portions of these laws. As a result municipal broadband providers continue to run face first into protectionist provisions written by incumbent ISP lawyers and lobbyists solely concerned about protecting the current broken broadband market.
The impact of the FCC’s loss is very real. Ars Technica notes that one of the broadband ISPs that originally asked for help from the FCC, Wilson North Carolina’s Greenlight, has had to disconnect one neighboring town or face violating state law. With state leaders tone deaf to the problem of letting incumbent ISPs write such laws, and the FCC flummoxed in its attempt to help, about 200 home Internet customers in Pinetops will thus lose access to gigabit broadband service as of October 28:
“We must comply with our state law,” Agner said. But city council members were very vocal in their opposition to the law and regret having to disconnect the service, she said. “We have not identified a solution where Greenlight can serve customers outside of our county,” Wilson City Manager Grant Goings told The Wilson Times earlier this week before the city council vote. “While we are very passionate about reaching underserved areas and we think the laws are atrocious to prevent people from having service, we?re not going to jeopardize our ability to serve Wilson residents.”
Greenlight’s fiber network provides speeds of 40Mbps to 1Gbps at prices ranging from $40 to $100 a month, service that’s unheard of from any of the regional incumbent providers (AT&T, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable) that lobbied for the protectionist law. Previously, the community of Pinetops only had access to sluggish DSL Service from CenturyLink:
Wilson already had fiber in Pinetops, which has been an electric customer of Wilson’s for more than 40 years. Before deploying Internet access to Pinetops, Wilson was laying fiber in the town to support smart grid initiatives. After the FCC voted to let city Internet services expand outside their boundaries, Wilson extended the fiber network to pass the roughly 700 homes in Pinetops, Agner said. Prior to this, Pinetops residents’ only option was CenturyLink DSL, she said.
That’s the same CenturyLink that’s currently using the lack of competition in its markets to begin saddling already slow and expensive DSL service with usage caps and overage fees. ISPs have been very successful in sowing partisan discord by framing municipal broadband as a partisan issue (pesky government interfering in private enterprise!). In reality, most municipal broadband networks have been built in Conservative areas and see broad, bi-partisan support. Disliking the local phone and cable company (and the market failure that built them) is actually something that tends to bring bickering partisans together.
Still, with the FCC’s loss there’s nothing really stopping ISPs from continuing to use state legislatures as their personal playthings. Currently there’s twenty such laws protecting broadband duopolies in place, and despite growing attention to the practice, new protectionist laws are being passed each year.