In our previous coverage of high-speed fiber internet networks that are slowly roling out across the country, we’ve mentioned that some cities and towns aren’t waiting for big cable and phone companies to offer such service. Towns such as Chattanooga, Tenn., have turned to their city-owned electric utilities to develop municipal broadband networks. These city-run internet providers have increased competition in the broadband market by serving residents where commercial networks have been unwilling to go. The New York Times is reporting today that such municipal-run broadband networks are now caught in a legal battle between the Federal Communications Commission (for them) and state legislators (against them) over the spread of municipal broadband networks.
This month, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld restrictive laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that will halt the growth of municipal-own high speed internet access. While the decision directly affects only those two states, it has cast a shadow over dozens of city-run broadband projects started nationwide in recent years to help solve the digital divide.
“In siding with the states, the court hobbled the boldest effort by federal officials to support municipal broadband networks. While the court agreed that municipal networks were valuable, it disagreed with the F.C.C.’s legal arguments to pre-empt state laws. Now, (small towns with plans to develop broadband networks) fear they have little protection from laws like those in about 20 states that curb municipal broadband efforts and favor traditional cable and telecom firms. City officials say cable and telecom companies that have lobbied for state restrictions will be encouraged to fight for even more draconian laws, potentially squashing competition that could lead to lower prices and better speeds to access the web.”
Continue reading on NYTimes.com: “Broadband Law Could Force Rural Residents Off Information Superhighway”