Federal Court Blocks FCC’s Municipal Broadband Push
> AFTER A SERIES OF NE T-NEU TRALITY VICTORIES for the
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in federal court,
the agency was handed a significant defeat on Aug. 11, 2016, in
the battle for municipal broadband networks.
Last year, the cities of Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn.,
sought permission to build their own broadband networks in
order to push back against internet providers who are seen as
holding regional monopolies. State laws currently prevent such
projects, but the FCC fought to pre-empt state law and allow
them to move forward.
According to the federal appellate court’s decision, the FCC
does not have authority to overrule these state laws. While the
agency cited the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the need
to remove “barriers to broadband investment and competition,”
the authority to overrule state law is never explicitly stated.
“While we continue to review the decision, it appears to halt
the promise of jobs, investment and opportunity that community
broadband has provided in Tennessee and North Carolina,”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. “In the end,
I believe the commission’s decision to champion municipal
efforts highlighted the benefits of competition and the need of
communities to take their broadband
futures in their own hands.”
Currently, 19 states have laws that
prohibit the creation of municipal broadband
networks, and this decision indicates those laws
will remain in place for the foreseeable future. Major internet
providers in these states can, for now, breathe a sigh of relief.
“The FCC’s mandate is to make sure that Americans have
access to the best possible broadband,” Wheeler said. “We will
consider all our legal and policy options to remove barriers
to broadband deployment wherever they exist so that all
Americans can have access to 21st century communications.”
In terms of next steps, the FCC faces an uphill battle after
this unambiguous decision. A full court hearing is unlikely to
produce a different result, and going to the Supreme Court—
which may still only have eight justices and could result in
a tie—provides a different challenge. For these reasons, the
FCC’s ongoing fight for municipal broadband could be heavily
tied to the outcome of the presidential and congressional races
—MATT KRAUS 847-455-0188
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