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Tennessee Files Appeal to FCC Order Scaling Back State Barriers

The State of Tennessee has filed the first appeal to the recent FCC Opinion and Order [PDF] reducing state barriers to municipal broadband. Governor Bill Haslam appears determined to keep his constituents in the Internet slow lane.

The state filed the short petition on March 20th arguing [view the petition on Scribd.]:

The State of Tennessee, as a sovereign and a party to the proceeding below, is aggrieved and seeks relief on the grounds that the Order: (1) is contrary to the United States Constitution; (2) is in excess of the Commission’s authority; (3) is arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act; and (4) is otherwise contrary to law.

Haslam expressed his intention to explore the possibility of filing the appeal earlier this month reported the Times Free Press. In February, the Governor and Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery signed a letter from a number of state officials to the FCC urging them not to change state law. U.S. Rep from Tennessee Marsha Blackburn and her Senate counterpart Thom Tillis introduced legislation to fight the Order just days after the FCC decision.

State Senator Janice Bowling, a long time advocate for local choice, and Rep. Kevin Brooks have taken the opposite perspective, introducing state legislation to remove restrictions to achieve the same result as the FCC Order with no federal intervention. Their bill has been publicly supported by the state Farm Bureau and local municipalities such as the City of Bristol.

Hopefully, at the next election Tennessee voters will remember how their state elected officials and their Governor stand on improving connectivity in the Volunteer State. The good folks at Tech Dirt expressed a similar sentiment

But here's the larger question: if you're a resident of Tennessee who likes having fast, affordable, competitive broadband, are you happy about your tax dollars being used to sue the FCC in an effort to uphold a law written by the big broadband players, focused on blocking such competition? It seems like the current Tennessee Attorney General, Herbert Slatery, has painted a giant target on his back for a challenger who actually wants to support the public in Tennessee.

FCC Opinion and Order Striking Down Local Authority Limits in TN and NC: Highlights

The FCC has found that it has the authority to remove aspects of Tennessee and North Carolina law that limit local authority to build or expand Internet networks. In short, states seem to retain the authority to restrict municipalities from offering service at all. However, if states allow local governments to offer services, then the FCC has the power to determine whether any limitations on how they do it are a barrier to the deployment of advanced telecommunications services per its authority in section 706 of the Telecommunications Act.

The FCC has removed a restriction in Tennessee law that prevented municipalities with fiber networks from expanding to serve their neighbors, per a petition from Chattanooga.

In North Carolina, the FCC has removed multiple aspects of a 2011 law, HB 129, that effectively outlawed municipal networks by presenting local governments with a thicket of red tape, including territorial restrictions on existing networks. The city of Wilson had petitioned the FCC for this intervention. 

Listen to our podcast with Jim Baller about this decision.

See the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Press Release on the Opinion and Order for more. If you don't want to read the full order, we pulled out some key paragraphs and sorted them for your benefit!

 

Key Paragraphs in the FCC Decision

We selected some of the most important passages with references to the original Memorandum Opinion and Order. Look for these passages as you read the original FCC doc [PDF].

Communities Around Chattanooga and Wilson Need Better Connectivity:

43. Numerous commenters favor preemption because they wish to obtain service from EPB or Wilson but are unable to do so, and the maps and data discussed above illustrate that communities surrounding EPB’s and Wilson’s current areas of broadband service have far fewer choices for advanced telecommunications capability than the national average. This suggests that further expansion could generate improved levels of investment and competition in these locations. (pp 23-24)

See charts on pages 15 and 16, 21 and 22 showing areas around Wilson and Chattanooga lag national average on Internet access for both basic and advanced services.

 

Characterizing the North Carolina Barriers to Municipal Networks:

3. In North Carolina, the restriction takes the form of a series of costly hoops through which a service provider must jump.  Although characterized as intended to “level the playing field” with private providers when passed, it is clear that the combination of requirements effectively raises the cost of market entry so high as to effectively block entry and protect the private providers that advocated for such legislation from competition.  (p. 4)

14. We also find that North Carolina’s H.B. 129 falls within our authority to preempt under section 706.  H.B. 129 does not prohibit service by municipal entities — indeed it explicitly permits service. (p. 6)

113. Taken together, these purported “level playing field” provisions single out communications services for asymmetric regulatory burdens that function as barriers to and have the effect of increasing the expense of and causing delay in broadband deployment and infrastructure investment. (p. 51)

62. However, even if we focus on taxpayer protection, as some request, the evidence before us suggests that the Tennessee and North Carolina laws before us actually increase the likelihood of failure because of the barriers that they erect to the successful deployment of broadband infrastructure (p.31)

98. … Indeed, the North Carolina Department of State Treasurer Local Government Commission recognized this in the legislative history of H.B. 129 when it noted that “the boundaries set forth in the PCS weaken the financial viability of [the Greenlight and Fibrant] broadband systems.” (p.45)

103. We therefore find that the exemption for “unserved” areas contained in 160A-340.2(b), is not consistent with our analysis of marketplace realities–both with respect to when H.B.129 was enacted, and especially with respect to our recent findings in the 2015 Broadband Progress Report reflecting evolving technology and consumer expectations. Under H.B.129, an area qualifies as “unserved” if at least 50 percent of the households do not have access to service at download speeds of at least 768 kbps while, in sharp contrast, under the Commission’s current benchmark companies receiving Connect America funding for fixed broadband must serve consumers with speeds of at least 10 Mbps for downloads and 1 Mbps for uploads;and areas are “unserved” by advanced telecommunications capability if they do not have access to service with speeds of at least 25 Mbps / 3 Mbps. As a result of the significantly lower speed thresholds adopted in H.B.129 compared to any of the above standards, very few areas in North Carolina will qualify as “unserved” despite the fact that many areas do not meet the standards articulated above. Given that Congress has directed us to carefully evaluate broadband deployment in our role as the regulator of interstate communications by wire, we find that our speed thresholds are the appropriate metric by which to evaluate whether an area is “unserved,” not the standard contained in H.B.129. (p.47)

 

Characterizing the Tennessee Barrier to Municipal Networks

13. The territorial restriction in Tennessee Code Section 601 serves only to restrict municipal electric providers from providing broadband service on fiber networks that they are already authorized to build statewide…  It serves only to effectuate state communications policy preferences by enforcing inefficiency and protecting incumbents from competition. (p.6)

62. However, even if we focus on taxpayer protection, as some request, the evidence before us suggests that the Tennessee and North Carolina laws before us actually increase the likelihood of failure because of the barriers that they erect to the successful deployment of broadband infrastructure. (p.31)

 

Municipal Networks Improve Internet Access Services and Competition

Footnote 139: We note that EPB vastly increased the broadband speeds available to those within its service territory while generating revenue from its broadband service without cross-subsidization from its electrical service, indicating that there was substantial unmet demand.  (p.25)

47. … In other cases, even in the absence of market failure, communities may find that meeting additional unmet demand for broadband serves important policy priorities.  For instance, the municipal provider may have both the incentive and means to serve those broadband needs that are so widely dispersed in the community they would not show up on the balance sheet of any private firm. (p.25)

 

Relevant to Barriers in Other States

16. While the present Memorandum Opinion and Order (Order) only addresses the EPB and Wilson Petitions, the Commission will not hesitate to preempt similar statutory provisions in factual situations where they function as barriers to broadband investment and competition. (p.6)

60. Some commenters argue that municipal entry distorts the marketplace because the municipality functions as both regulator and competitor and could use its authority anti-competitively. This argument fails because these commenters are unable to identify any compelling evidence that this is an actual problem in Tennessee or North Carolina (or elsewhere). (p.31)

62. However, even if we focus on taxpayer protection, as some request, the evidence before us suggests that the Tennessee and North Carolina laws before us actually increase the likelihood of failure because of the barriers that they erect to the successful deployment of broadband infrastructure (p.31)

79.[Regarding potential barriers to telecom-related services that may not solely be Internet access] -  … that “a provider’s ability to offer video service and to deploy broadband networks are linked intrinsically… We recognize that providers may not always have a business case for building a network unless they can optimize revenue by bundling multiple services. (p.39)

Footnote 329: As discussed above with reference to EPB and Tennessee, the restrictions on the provision of bundled services undermines a provider’s ability to provide broadband successfully due to the strong customer preference for bundled offerings (p.53)

 

Regarding FCC Authority to Preempt State Laws:

146. To put it plainly, section 706 authorizes the Commission to displace state laws that effectuate choices about the substance of communications policy that conflict with federal communications policy designed to ensure “reasonable and timely” deployment of broadband. (p.62)

141. … Before addressing whether section 706 authorizes preemptions of laws regulating municipalities as broadband providers, we first address whether it authorizes preemption under any circumstances; for example, whether it would reach state laws that regulate broadband provision by purely private entities.  Take, as an illustration, a hypothetical state law that prohibited cable-based broadband providers from offering broadband capacity greater than that offered by wireless broadband providers.  We think that the answer in that instance would be clear. Such a law would prevent cable-based broadband providers from competing based on superior bandwidth, which in turn could cause such providers to conclude that they could not make an economic case for increasing the capacity of their network in certain communities. (p.59)

143. … And section 706(b) uses at least equally urgent language, requiring us to continually reappraise deployment, and mandating that we “shall take immediate action” when necessary by “removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market. (p.60)

11. We find that section 706 authorizes the Commission to preempt state laws that specifically regulate the provision of broadband by the state’s political subpision, where those laws stand as barriers to broadband investment and competition.  A different question would be presented were we asked to preempt state laws that withhold authority to provide broadband altogether.  But where a state has authorized municipalities to provide broadband, and then chooses to impose regulations on that municipal provider in order to effectuate the state’s preferred communications policy objectives, such as the protection of incumbent ISPs, such laws fall within our authority to preempt.  (p. 5)

147. But where a state has authorized municipalities to provide broadband, and then chooses to impose regulations on that municipal provider in order to effectuate the state’s preferred communications policy objectives, we find that such laws fall within our authority to preempt.  To take an example, where a state allows political subpisions to provide broadband, but then imposes regulations to “level the playing field” by creating obligations apparently intended to mirror those borne by private providers, it does so in order to further its own policy goals about optimal competitive and investment conditions in the broadband marketplace.  The states here are deciding that incumbent broadband providers require protection from what they regard as unfair competition and regulating to restrict that competition.  This steps into the federal role in regulating interstate communications.  Where those laws conflict with federal communications policy and regulation, they may be preempted.  We thus interpret sections 706(a) and 706(b) to give us authority to preempt state laws that regulate the provision of broadband by political subpisions, provided that the law in question serves to effect communications policy and would frustrate broadband deployment “on a reasonable and timely basis . . . to all Americans.” (p.62)

148. Such a law is focused solely on policy preferences, and not core state control of political subpisions.  In short, a state law that effectuates a policy preference regarding the provision of broadband is not shielded from all scrutiny simply because it is cast in terms that affect only municipal providers. (p.63)

12. And unlike Nixon v. Missouri Municipal League, the question here is not whether the municipal systems can provide broadband at all, but rather whether the states may dictate the manner in which interstate commerce is conducted and the nature of competition that should exist for interstate communications. (p.5)

167. Once the state has granted that power, however, we do not believe a state is free to advance its own policy objectives when they run counter to federal policy regarding interstate communications. (p.70)

Within North Carolina, the John Locke Foundation has been a persistent critic of local government efforts to encourage competition against the cable and telephone company incumbent providers. It has made many claims in its effort to ensure communities have no power to build their own networks or to use their assets to partner with independent entities for superior Internet access. The FCC saw fit to directly respond to some of these claims.

 

John Locke Foundation Has Misrepresented How Municipal Networks are Funded

69. Morganton and Salisbury, North Carolina.  The John Locke Foundation (JLF) describes the cities of Morganton and Salisbury as examples of municipal broadband that “delivers harm, not help, to the competitive environment” in North Carolina. With respect to the “CoMPAS” (City of Morganton Public Antenna System) system in Morganton, JLF asserts that such harm to the community is evident in two actions by the city council.  The first harmful action, JLF claims, was the council’s decision to allow CoMPAS to borrow funds from two municipal funds. The same report on which JLF relies also states, however, that CoMPAS no longer operates at a loss and its loan repayments to those two funds will be complete in fiscal year 2014. Based on all the information in the report, there does not appear to be any evidence of harm to the community from the municipality’s decision to temporarily borrow money from two of its own reserve funds.  JLF’s second example of purported harm is the alleged cross-subsidization of CoMPAS cable rates by increases in taxes and electricity rates.  Significantly, the news report cited by JLF does not claim that any cross-subsidization actually occurred.  On the contrary, it reports that Morganton’s City Manager (a certified public accountant) said it had not occurred. (p.35)

Mount Vernon Mayor: Local Authority Has Been Good For Our City

As the time approached for FCC Commissioners to choose to allow Wilson and Chattanooga to serve surrounding communities, leaders from municipalities with publicly owned networks shared their experiences. Jill Boudreau, Mayor of Mount Vernon, Washington, published her community's experience with their muni in GoSkagit.com. 

As in the recent testimonial from Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller, Mayor Boudreau described how Mount Vernon's network has created a quality of life where high-tech has enhanced local medicine, encouraged new businesses, and created and environment rich with competition.

Mount Vernon's open access network provides infrastructure for nine service providers. Some of these providers offer services only to businesses, while others also serve government, retail providers, and specific industries such as the medical community. Hundreds of public and private customers receive fast, affordable, reliable connectivity through these providers and the city's publicly owned network.

We first introduced you to Mount Vernon in 2013. The community began deployment in 1995 and have added incrementally to the network to serve nearby Burlington and the Port of Skagit. Government facilities, schools, hospitals, and businesses save millions while utilizing top-notch technology. Businesses have relocated to the area to take advantage of the network and enjoy the high quality of life in the relatively affordable area with its abundance of outdoor recreation.

Mayor Boudreau recognizes that Mount Vernon's success may not be easy to come by for every community but believes each should have the ability to decide that for themselves. She writes:

When it comes to community growth and prosperity, next-generation Internet is vital infrastructure just like a road or sewer pipe. Though what we’ve built in Mount Vernon may not work in every city, each community should have the choice to pursue fast, affordable and reliable broadband in the way that works for them.

Tennessee Farm Bureau Association Backs State Legislation to End Barriers

The Tennessee Farm Bureau Association recently put its support behind state legislation from Senator Janice Bowling and Rep. Kevin Brooks reports the Times Free Press

The Bureau told the Times Free Press:

"Our members are hungry to have broadband," said Rhedonna Rose, executive vice president of the 600,000-member Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. "We represent a lot of Tennesseans in very rural areas of the state who are frustrated that they don't have high-speed Internet."

SB 1134 and its companion HB 1303 are brief and direct, allowing municipal power distributors the right to extend Internet access beyond current geographic boundaries established by state barriers. Bradley County, one of EPB's neighbors, would like to have EPB expand service to them but state laws, backed by large corporate incumbents not interested in serving Bradley, forbid expansion.

According to a Chattanoogan article, EPB and Bradley County are planning for the expansion which will serve about 1,000 people; about 800 of those people rely on dial-up for Internet access. From the Chattanoogan article:

“We have people who live within half a mile of our service territory … who have nothing but dial-up, and that doesn’t make any sense” [EPB CEO Harold] DePriest said. “In a lot of cases we can get to those areas fairly easily.”

The recent FCC decision changed the landscape in Tennessee and North Carolina for now but policy advocates, telecommunications attorneys, and community leaders are braced for legal challenges. In a Times Free Press article from last week, Tennessee Republican Governor Bill Haslam stated that his office would consider appealing the FCC decision. 

Bowling and Brooks are more interested in solving the broadband problem for their constituents than in asserting rights as state legislators. They know untangling the impending court cases could slow the current momentum to bring better connectivity to Tennessee. Rather than wait for a decision, Bowling and Brooks are taking action as policy makers.

Bowling, who serves Tullahoma and its gigabit community, is a long-time supporter of local choice. She told the Times Free Press:

"Tennessee can take care of business for Tennessee," Bowling said. "We don't need the federal regulation so much; we just need the freedom to expand high-speed broadband in small-town Tennessee."

Last fall we introduced readers to some of the people from the small towns in Bradley County who desperately need help from EPB. Joyce Coltrin, a local business owner, told us that her business must rely on expensive mobile broadband even though she is less than 1/2 mile from EPB's service area. Joyce is leading a group of persistent residents who support SB 1134 and HB 1303. Joyce spoke with the Times Free Press:

Joyce Coltrin, a member of the group “Citizens Striving to be Part of the 21st Century, said, “I am hearing many legislators today talking about states’ rights and saying that the Federal Communications Commission has no right to go around state laws concerning the internet. I suggest that the logical extension of that thought would be that a state has no right to go around its commitment to the betterment of its citizens by denying access to the internet.”

March 13th Webinar on Historic FCC Decision: Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband

In light of the recent FCC decision to restore some local telecommunications authority in Tennessee and North Carolina, it is time to examine the details. Join leading telecom attorneys Jim Baller and Marty Stern as they host a live BroadbandUS.TV webcast on March 13th to discuss Title II, network neutrality, and new possibilities for munis.

The event begins at 1 p.m. ET and is titled FCC Takes Charge - Net Neutrality and Muni Broadband: New Title II Rules for Broadband Access and Preempting State Limits on Municipal Networks. Registration is available at the BroadbandUS.TV website. More info about the event:

In this special edition of Broadband US TV we examine two historic decisions from the FCC: The decision to classify broadband access as a Title II service, and the preemption of state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that placed limits on municipal broadband networks.  We’ll dive into these issues with two panels of prominent players and experts on both sides of these white hot issues.  Hear details about the rulings, predictions on implementation and court challenges, and what these rulings are likely to portend for broadband in America over the next year and beyond.  On the muni broadband panel, our own Jim Baller, lead counsel to Chattanooga and Wilson before the FCC, will go from host to panelist and mix it up with our other guests.  We’ll be sure not to cut him any slack.

Guests will be:

Title II and Broadband  -- Pipedream or New Reality                                     

  • Craig Aaron, President, Free Press 
  • Chris Lewis, VP, Government Affairs, Public Knowledge
  • Sarah Morris, Senior Policy Counsel, New America Foundation, Open Technology Initiative 
  • Hank Hultquist, VP, Federal Regulatory, AT&T
  • Barbara Esbin, Outside Counsel, American Cable Association
  • Jonathan Banks, Senior VP, Law and Policy, US Telecom Association 

 

Muni Broadband -- Striking Down State Limits 

  • Jim Baller, Senior Principal, Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide 
  • Joanne Hovis, CEO, Coalition for Local Internet Choice 
  • Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Network Initiative, ILSR
  • Scott Cleland, President, Precursor Group 
  • Jeff Lanning, VP, Federal Regulatory Affairs, CenturyLink
  • Lawrence Spiwak, President, Phoenix Center

Participants will have the opportunity to send in their questions during panel discussion, so have your questions ready!

Blackburn and Tillis Introduce Bill Aimed to Undo FCC Decision to Restore Local Authority

Last week, the FCC made history when it chose to restore local telecommunications authority by nullifying state barriers in Tennessee and North Carolina. Waiting in the wings were Rep. Marsha Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis from Tennessee and North Carolina respectively, with their legislation to cut off the FCC at the knees. [A PDF of the draft legislation is available online.]

Readers will remember Blackburn from last year. She introduced a similar measure in the form of an amendment to an appropriations bill. Blackburn has repeatedly attributed her attempts to block local authority to her mission to preserve the rights of states. A Broadcasting and Cable article quoted her:

“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures."

Thom Tillis, the other half of this Dystopian Duo, released a statement just hours after the FCC decision:

“Representative Blackburn and I recognize the need for Congress to step in and take action to keep unelected bureaucrats from acting contrary to the expressed will of the American people through their state legislatures.”

Considering that networks in Chattanooga and Wilson are incredibly popular and an increasing number of communities across the country are approving municipal network initatives through the ballot, it is obvious that Tillis is rather confused about the expressed will of the American people. He needs to sign up for our once weekly newsletter!

No doubt the decision will be tied up in court proceedings for some time to come as state lawmakers attempt to control what municipalities do with their own connectivity decisions.

In keeping with the drama of the recent days, I have to say, "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." If Blackburn and Tillis are so convinced the FCC is overstepping, why not let the matter be decided in the courts? They know the law is not on their side, that's why.

We encourage you to contact your elected officials, and let them know that you think about the Blackburn/Tillis bill: "that dog won't hunt," in the words of Chairman Wheeler. The victory of February 26th was a significant first step in a long road to ensuring fast, affordable, reliable Internet for every one. Let's keep the momentum rolling.

Jim Baller is the Senior Principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, the lead counsel to Wilson and the Chattanooga EPB. You can read Jim's full statement at the firm's website:

“This is an important moment for communities in North Carolina, Tennessee, and other states that have barriers to local investments in advanced communications networks,” said Jim Baller, senior principal of Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide. “Not only has the Commission confirmed that it has authority to remove such barriers, but it has also compiled a massive record documenting the critical role that local Internet choice can play in fostering strong, vibrant communities and in ensuring that the United States will remain a leading nation in the emerging knowledge-based global economy.”

Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

For Immediate Release: February 26, 2015

Contact: Christina DiPasquale, 202.716.1953, Christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com

BREAKING: Cable Companies Lose Big at FCC, Barriers to Community Broadband Struck Down

Two southern cities today persuaded the Federal Communications Commission to recognize their right to build their own publicly owned Internet networks where existing providers had refused to invest in modern connections. The 3-2 FCC vote removes barriers for municipal networks in Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, to extend their high-quality Internet service to nearby areas.  

Said Christopher Mitchell, Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance:

“Cable companies lost their bet that millions spent on lobbying to stifle competition was a wiser investment than extending high-quality Internet to our nation’s entrepreneurs, students and rural families. 

“Preventing big Internet Service Providers from unfairly discriminating against content online is a victory, but allowing communities to be the owners and stewards of their own broadband networks is a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come.”

The FCC decision sets an historic precedent for towns working to offer municipal broadband networks in twenty states that have enacted limits or bans on local governments building, owning, or even partnering to give local businesses and residents a choice in high speed Internet access. Three-quarters of Americans currently have either no broadband or no choice of their Internet provider. 

Christopher Mitchell, the Director of Community Broadband Networks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, has traveled to over 20 states and spoken with over 100 community groups looking to provide high-quality Internet for their residents. He has also advised members of the FCC on related telecommunications issues in the lead-up to the decision.

For interviews around the FCC decision, please contact Christina DiPasquale at 202.716.1953 or at christina@fitzgibbonmedia.com. To view a map tracking local government investments in wired telecommunications networks and state laws that discourage such approaches, please visit: http://www.muninetworks.org/communitymap.

Municipal broadband networks (munis):

  • Create thousands of new private sector jobsA collaborative muni effort in Georgia between five towns, is credited with bringing over 6,000 new jobs to the region by building and sustaining their network. The muni in Springfield, MO convinced online travel company Expedia to move to the town and has 900 local jobs because their network allowed the company to stay and expand.
  • Protect consumers by offering competitive pricing. During the period of 2007-08, Time Warner Cable increased rates up to 40 percent in some of the areas in Raleigh, NC, while not increasing rates in nearby Wilson—which has a strong muni. Chattanooga’s muni grew from a basic connection of 15 Mbps, when it was first founded, to 100 Mbps today–without raising prices once. The slowest connection available in Chattanooga from the utility is 10 times faster than the average American connection.
  • Provide higher speed Internet that allows for increased business activity. The largest employers in Wilson, NC rely on the municipal broadband network for their transactions. The muni in Springfield, MO, attracted John Deere Remanufactured and the McLane Company to the area. 
  • Do not rely on taxpayer financing, like large private telephone companies. Most municipal networks are financed through methods that do not involve raising taxes: revenue bonds, interdepartmental loans and savings created by ending expensive leased services. Dakota County in MN has saved $10 million over 10-15 years by building their own network and ending leases. Over $2 million in revenues from the Thomasville, GA network contributed to the town’s ability to eliminate its local fire tax.
  • Receive broad support from voters, regardless of party affiliation. Roughly 3 out of 4 cities with citywide munis reliably vote Republican and polling shows that 2 out of 3 Republicans, Independents, and Democrats prefer that decisions about how to best expand their Internet access be made by local governments.
  • Foster the strength of local businesses. Politically conservative communities in Chanute, KS, and Lafayette, LA, have munis that are working on the deployment of fiber networks to encourage economic development by allowing businesses to market themselves and compete online in the global marketplace. Lafayette has added over 1,000 tech jobs in 2014 alone.
  • Expand educational opportunities. The muni in Longmont, CO, is now providing 10 times the bandwidth that their school district previously received from a private provider at an annual savings of $100,000. Munis in Carroll County, MD, and Chanute, KS, have both allowed schools they service to offer new distance learning classes in multiple locations via video streaming. The city of Rockport, ME, partnered with a nonprofit college to bring students upload speeds 200 times faster than Time Warner Cable’s package for the area.

38 Next Century Cities Leaders Sign Letter to FCC Supporting Local Authority

President Obama suggested restoring local telecommunications authority while visiting Cedar Falls in January and a number of local elected officials were ready to back him up. Leaders from 38 members of Next Century Cities recently submitted a public letter to the FCC urging commissioners to consider local autonomy as they consider the Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, petitions.

Last summer, both communities filed with the FCC seeking relief from restrictive state laws that prevent their broadband utilities from serving surrounding communities. FCC Chairman Wheeler has spoken in support of local authority more than once. Next Century Cities, a coalition of communities that was formed specifically to advance better connectivity, writes:

We write only to urge that, as you consider these petitions, you take proper account of the importance of local choice and autonomy. The benefits of high-quality broadband are now beyond dispute: these projects have stimulated local innovation and economic development, enhanced education, improved government services, and opened new worlds of opportunity to communities and citizens. It is our hope that federal policy will support the realization of these outcomes in our communities and in towns and cities across the country, by empowering every community to meet the needs of their residents.

You can read the full letter [PDF] online to see if your elected officials signed on.

The FCC's decision on the petitions is expected in February.

Supporters Rally Behind Wheeler, Chattanooga, and Wilson: "I Recommend Approval"

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement yesterday supporting the concept of local authority for community broadband infrastructure. Chattanooga and Wilson filed petitions to scale back state restrictions last summer. In his statement, Wheeler officially recommended the Commission approve the petitions. If approved, the petitions have the potential to liberate local communities from state restrictions. 

Along with a number of other organizations that advocate local authority, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance supports Chairman Wheeler who said:

Communities across the nation know that access to robust broadband is key to their economic future – and the future of their citizens. Many communities have found that existing private-sector broadband deployment or investment fails to meet their needs. They should be able to make their own decisions about building the networks they need to thrive. After looking carefully at petitions by two community broadband providers asking the FCC to pre-empt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks, I recommend approval by the Commission so that these two forward-thinking cities can serve the many citizens clamoring for a better broadband future.

Chris Mitchell, Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at ILSR.org and the editor of MuniNetworks.org said:

The Chairman's statement is a breath of fresh air. This approach will allow communities with little or no choice in providers to take control of their own connectivity. When local communities have the authority to invest in publicly owned infrastrucuture without state barriers, more businesses and residents have fast, affordable, reliable Internet access. Even just the possibility of a community network can incent large scale providers to improve their services. We are pleased to see Chairman Wheeler both talk the talk and walk the walk of restoring local decision-making authority.

A statement of support quickly followed from the Georgia Municipal Association:

Prohibiting government from providing this economic development infrastructure, or limiting its ability to do so, is counter to the wishes of the community and to the best interest of cities, states and our nation. 

Next Century Cities, the coalition of over 50 communities working to restore local Internet choice, recently delivered a letter [PDF] from 38 member cities to the FCC, urging the Commission to consider local autonomy. Deb Socia, the Executive Director, applauded the statement:

If we want truly next-generation broadband, then cities across the country need to be in the driver’s seat. That’s why they are looking to the FCC to uphold their ability to make the best choices for their communities and residents.

Public Knowledge wrote:

Every community should have the right to determine its broadband needs and the path of its digital future, including the ability to pick competition over monopoly for broadband services. Chairman Wheeler has taken an important first step by advancing these two petitions forward.

The Media Mobilizing Project, involved in efforts to improve connectivity in Philadelphia, stated that it strongly supports Chairman Wheeler's plan to restore local authority:

Philly, every city in PA, and every community nationwide deserves the right to explore high quality competition to our communications monopolies - to drive prices down, quality up, and access to everyone, poor and working people and beyond.  We look forward to Chairman Wheeler's continued leadership on this issue, and expanding options for our communities - who strongly believe that access to high quality communications is a human right.

From Common Cause:

"What a great step approval would be toward bringing broadband to every American,” agreed former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now serving as special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “We built this country with federal and community partnerships for vital infrastructure, and what's more vital than broadband for the 21st century?  A big high-five to Chairman Tom Wheeler and the colleagues who have joined him to push this move.”

The Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) also passed a "big high-five" to the Chairman:

CLIC applauds Chairman Wheeler for his leadership and recognition that local communities play an integral role in ensuring broadband competition for their residents. This is a big step forward and just the beginning — we look forward to working with the Chairman, the rest of the Commission and other stakeholders to remove barriers to better broadband around the country.

For more on the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions, we encourage you to listen to episode #120 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast, in which we debunk a series of arguments against restoring local authority. 

Chris also had an informative interview with Harold Feld on section 706 in episode #84. In that interview, published well before the Chattanooga and Wilson petitions were filed, the Senior Vice President of Public Knowledge dissected how the DC Circuit Court came to the conclusion that paved the way for the petitions.

Good stuff!

Community-Based Broadband Solutions: The Benefits of Competition and Choice for Community Development and Highspeed Internet Access

Publication Date: 
January 13, 2015
Author(s): 
National Economic Council and Council of Economic Advisors

Affordable, reliable access to high speed broadband is critical to U.S. economic growth and competitiveness. Upgrading to higher-speed broadband lets consumers use the Internet in new ways, increases the productivity of American individuals and businesses, and drives innovation throughout the digital ecosystem. As this report describes, while the private sector has made investments to dramatically expand broadband access in the U.S., challenges still remain. Many markets remain unserved or underserved. Others do not benefit from the kind of competition that drives down costs and improves quality. To help fill the void, hundreds of towns and cities around the country have developed their own locally-owned networks. This report describes the benefits of higher-speed broadband access, the current challenges facing the market, and the benefits of competition – including competition from community broadband networks. - Executive Summary

On January 13, 2015, President Barak Obama visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, to discuss his administration's plans to bring better connectivity to American residents and businesses. The centerpiece of his strategy involved removing state barriers to municipal networks and promoting local authority.

In tandem with that speech, the White House released this report. The report includes significant research from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, including community profiles, economic data, and the role if municipal networks in competition.