Gripes about internet speed are common across the country, but in certain towns the complaints have a special twist: the fact that local utilities want to offer faster broadband infrastructure, but state governments, at the apparent behest of the telecom industry, have passed laws to prevent them from doing so. In response, cities in Tennessee and North Carolina are asking the FCC to sweep aside those state laws in favor of a national mandate to promote high-speed broadband connection. And on Friday, a bevy of interest groups filed comments to explain why the agency does or doesn’t have the legal authority to help local governments.
Cable and telephone companies are urging the Federal Communications Commission to ease off its proposal to help municipalities offer Internet service, arguing the agency lacks the authority to override state rules. Lobbyists for the industry made their case after FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler earlier this year suggested the federal government could override laws passed by some states that prevent local governments from setting up broadband services that would compete with private-sector offerings. Some cities, such as Chattanooga, Tenn., have provided Internet service to area residents. Advocates say they can fill in gaps in coverage and speed left by service providers that are obliged to make a profit for their shareholders. Their efforts have had mixed success. EPB, Chattanooga’s local power company, began selling ultra high-speed Internet service before companies such as Google Inc. Meanwhile, a consortium of Utah towns struggled to drum up enough business to meet revenue targets, leading authorities in the town of Provo to sell their infrastructure to Google for $1. The United States Telecom Association, which represents Internet providers such as AT&T Inc. and CenturyLink Inc., argued that failed municipal-broadband campaigns make it “eminently reasonable for state legislatures to take a cautious approach by limiting public participation in broadband (or even prohibiting that activity entirely).”
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