from the dynamic-duopoly-defenders dept
So it was refreshing (and a little bit shocking) when the FCC earlier this year woke up from a fifteen-year slumber on this issue. The agency declared it would be using its authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to pre-empt the more idiotic portions of these laws. Responding to complaints from municipal broadband operators and utilities trying to get into the broadband business, the FCC initially took aim at just two of the worst states: North Carolina and Tennessee, where companies like AT&T have been literally writing laws ensuring their duopoly power remains unchallenged indefinitely.
It's hoped the success of the FCC's work in these two states will slowly expand to the eighteen other states that have passed similar mega-ISP-friendly laws.
Not too surprisingly, politicians loyal to incumbent ISPs cried foul, and immediately started working on drumming up partisan division. It's not working: most municipal broadband networks see broad, bi-partisan community support -- and most municipal networks have been built with Conservative approval in more Conservative-leaning cities and states (whether that's Lafayette, Louisiana, or Chattanooga, Tennessee). ISP-loyal politicians like Tennessee's Martha Blackburn have expressed outrage that the FCC would dare to trample local rights -- something that is, apparently, the sole responsibility of companies like AT&T, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable and Comcast.
The pretense behind the opposition to municipal broadband has always been that these laws are necessary to protect taxpayers from themselves, since sometimes (like any business model) municipal broadband doesn't work out. Of course some projects have worked well and others haven't, but the decision to travel this path is something that should be left up to the towns and cities themselves, not AT&T lawyers. However, North Carolina has joined Tennessee in suing the FCC over its latest push, claiming the state has been "aggrieved" by the FCC's attempt to remove state barriers to broadband expansion:
"North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Federal Communications Commission seeking to overturn the FCC's decision to allow the City of Wilson to expand its community broadband network service known as Greenlight. The state has been "aggrieved," according to Cooper. But a broadband group labeled the suit a "waste" of taxpayer money. Cooper stated in the suit that the FCC "unlawfully inserted itself" between the state and "political subdivisions" such as communities."The problem is the FCC is Congressionally mandated to ensure the "timely and reasonable" deployment of broadband services, and it's pretty hard to argue you're helping that goal by letting AT&T lawyers and lobbyists write state law that does the exact opposite. It's not like this influence resides in shadow, ALEC's draft legislation sits on the outfit's website for anyone to read. The irony of using taxpayer money under the pretense of protecting taxpayer money didn't escape municipal broadband groups commenting on the case:
"Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do," says Christopher Mitchell with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. "State leaders should stand up for their citizens' interests and demand good broadband for them, rather than fighting alongside paid lobbyists to take away those opportunities."It's worth reiterating that these towns and cities wouldn't be getting into the broadband business if they were happy with the service provided by regional monopolies and duopolies. The real absurdity of it is this: municipalities, companies and consumers alike benefit immeasurably from expanded broadband in a state, regardless of how it's provided. That Tennessee and North Carolina are willing to throw all of this potential growth away just to protect the campaign cash contributions of big telecom operators speaks volumes about the quality of Tennessee and North Carolina state legislators, and the stranglehold companies like AT&T, CenturyLink and Comcast have over the state legislative process.