By Lan Du – Edited by Sarah O’Loughlin
On February 26, along with the decision in favor of net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) voted to preempt the North Carolina and Tennessee state laws preventing the expansion of community broadband networks. The vote was split 3-2 along party lines, with the Chairman Tom Wheeler joined by fellow Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel.
The FCC order came in response to petitions filed by two municipal broadband networks: the City of Wilson, North Carolina and the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Both operated broadband networks providing Gigabit-per-second broadband, voice, and video service. Under Tennessee laws, municipal electric systems like EPB are not allowed to provide internet and cable services out of its electrical system footprints. A 2011 North Carolina law similarly prevents the City of Wilson from expanding its gigabit fiber network, prohibiting its deployment to any areas in which residents currently have Internet service of at least 786kbps, a speed threshold that falls woefully short of any practical online use and is far below the FCC’s newly revised broadband definition.
In overturning these states laws, the FCC relied on the Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Section 706 requires the FCC to encourage the deployment of broadband to all Americans by using “measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.” The FCC concluded that the subjected provisions of the Tennessee and North Carolina laws erected such barriers, conflicting with the federal regulation provided by Section 706. (more…)