A group representing giants in the cable industry is trying to shut down two municipalities' proposals to expand their public broadband networks, arguing that public broadband has a "mixed record" and can be harmful to taxpayers, despite these two networks already being successful where they're already operational. Laws in 20 states prevent municipalities from creating their own broadband networks — much to the pleasure of private cable companies, which have shown an impressive dedication to avoiding any competition and any suggestion that their service is merely a utility. Municipalities have on occasion created their own public networks to make up for shortcomings from local internet providers, and it's easy to see why private providers wouldn't want that around.
Chattanooga offers gigabit internet. Yes, gigabit.
The two municipalities, those of Chattanooga, TN, and Wilson, NC, have petitioned the FCC to allow them to work around state laws that block their broadband service's expansion. The FCC has previously said that it plans to use its powers to invalidate these laws, but there's some contention over whether it can do that. In a filing and blog post today, USTelecom — which the Guardian says represents Comcast and Time Warner Cable, among other industry giants — argues that the FCC doesn't have the power to do this. That's hardly the only reason that USTelecom provides for why these municipalities should remain blocked, however, generally arguing that it should be up to the state to decide. For what it's worth, state governors are in agreement. The National Governors Association also submitted a comment on Friday asking that the FCC "honor the longstanding partnership between states and the federal government" and reject these two municipalities' petitions.
While USTelecom is right that some public broadband networks have turned into blunders, many have been incredibly successful and have actually proven to be legitimate competitors to private networks. In fact, Chattanooga offers gigabit internet to every home and business in its community — a speed that's still incredibly rare to see from private providers in the US. Community Broadband Networks says that 40 communities in 13 states are currently offering gigabit service.
With the FCC having said that it will allow municipal broadband networks to work around these laws, it seems that the cable companies may have an uphill battle. Still, it's not clear when the FCC will find time to rule on this — and, if the cable industry loses, it wouldn't be surprising to see it continue the fight from there.
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