Monday, August 29, 2016

Federal appeals-court ruling OKs state laws blocking extraterritorial municipal broadband

Rural residents in some states could soon lose their opportunity for broadband access via nearby towns, Cecilia Kang reports for The New York Times. "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 broadband networks, "which are city-run internet providers that have increased competition in the broadband market by serving residents where commercial networks have been unwilling to go."

"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," Kang writes. "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 Federal Communication Commission's legal arguments to pre-empt state laws."

That has led towns in about 20 states "to fear they have little protection from laws like those that curb municipal broadband efforts and favor traditional cable and telecom firms," Kang writes. "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."

"Some lawmakers and free-market-oriented think tanks say public broadband projects should be carefully scrutinized by local regulators because they are costly and, if unsuccessful, can be a financial burden on taxpayers," Kang writes. "In addition, FCC cannot intervene in state laws, they said." An FCC spokesman said the agency has no plans to appeal the decision. "That means municipalities that want to keep expanding their municipal broadband networks will have to fight to overturn state laws on their own," Kang reports.

No comments: