US Representative, Marsha Blackburn, wants to make sure the Federal Communications Commission never interferes with a “state’s right” to protect private Internet service providers from having to compete against municipal broadband networks. Twenty states have passed laws making it difficult for cities and towns to offer their own broadband Internet services, and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has pledged to use his agency’s authority to “preempt state laws that ban competition from community broadband.” He may get a chance to make good on that promise soon. EPB, a community-owned electric utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee said it is “considering filing a petition to the FCC” to overturn a state law that prevents it from offering Internet and video service outside its electric service area.
Earlier we wrote about Rep. Marsha Blackburn adding a terrible amendment to a House appropriations bill that would block the FCC from preempting anti-competitive bans on municipal broadband. Unfortunately, despite some noise about it, the amendment it was approved 223 – 200 in the House. While Blackburn (falsely) spun the bill about letting local governments make their own decisions, that’s flat out wrong. As others have pointed out it’s exactly the opposite. The FCC’s plan would be about giving power back to local governments to allow them to make their own decisions about whether or not they wanted to offer municipal broadband. What’s really incredible here is that, as we noted this morning, one of the most successful muni-broadband projects in the country is in Chattanooga, Tennessee — not far from Blackburn’s district. Tennessee, however, has an anti-muni broadband law that is preventing Chattanooga from actually expanding its service and offering it to more people. The utility that runs the Chattanooga fiber project recently made it clear it would like to ask the FCC to preempt the lawthat’s currently blocking it from expanding its service. So, Blackburn is directly telling people in Tennessee that they can’t get faster, cheaper broadband, and that their local governments can’t help, because of a lobbyist-fueled bill in the state capitol.