Alabama, Michigan And Other States Argue For Right To Curb Muni-Broadband

Officials from 11 states are siding with North Carolina and Tennessee in their battle with the Federal Communications Commission about limits on muni-broadband networks.

The states are asking the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to vacate a recent FCC order that invalidated limits on muni-broadband in North Carolina and Tennessee. The agency's order was specific to those two states, but observers say the FCC may issue similar orders that would apply to around 20 other states that curb muni-broadband.

"The FCC’s broad preemption of state municipal broadband regulation eliminates states’ control over their own subdivisions and frustrates state efforts to increase access to broadband," the group of states argues in a friend-of-the-court brief filed recently with the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The states contend that laws restricting muni-broadband offer "important checks on abuse and mismanagement."

"The FCC’s order prevents states from governing their own instrumentalities, broadly usurps power without authority, and opens the door for financial instability and corruption," they argue. The states signing the friend-of-the-court brief are Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Michigan, Ohio, South Carolina, Utah, and West Virginia.

The FCC preempted restrictions on muni-broadband in North Carolina and Tennessee shortly after President Barack Obama called for the agency to do so. “High speed broadband is not a luxury, it's a necessity,” Obama said in a speech delivered in Cedar Falls, Iowa -- a city that operates its own Gigabit fiber-optic network. “In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one you have here in Cedar Falls.”

In North Carolina, lawmakers imposed the now-vacated curbs on muni-broadband in 2011 -- several years after the city of Wilson spent $28 million to create Greenlight, a muni network that allowed consumers to obtain basic cable, Web access at 10 Mpbs and digital phone service, for $99.95 a month. Time Warner reportedly offered a similar bundle -- though with slower broadband speeds -- for an introductory rate of $137.95 a month.

In Tennessee, Chattanooga's Electric Power Board decided in 2007 to move forward with a plan to build its own fiber-optic broadband network. The city ultimately developed the first 1 GB broadband network in the country. Soon afterward, Tennessee lawmakers limited other cities' ability to create similar networks.

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