The Federal Government’s Involvement and Tennessee’s Lawsuit
The federal government has also gotten involved in this situation, since Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has become aware that there are many areas around the country that have an inadequate broadband internet connection due to the same, or similar reasons that Tennessee has. There are 20 U.S. states that have the same type of restrictive law that discourages broadband provider competition. Last February, the FCC, in response to petitions by Wilson, NC and EPB, ruled that the laws in two of these states (North Carolina and Tennessee) in effect create a monopoly and rob communities of educational and economic opportunities, and should be pre-empted. For details, see Tom Wheeler’s statement from February 26, 2015 related to Dockets #14-115 and 14-116. Many of us here in Bradley County were hoping that this ruling would automatically open the doors to allowing EPB to enter Bradley County and begin their build out to create for our local citizenry the opportunity to connect to their fiber-optic lines. Volunteer Electric Cooperative, the electric cooperative that covers much of southern Bradley County, was willing to work a deal with them, providing their “electric power footprint” in exchange for a revenue sharing plan with EPB.
Unfortunately, more delays followed. In March of 2015, our TN State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, with the backing of our Governor Bill Haslam, and several state lawmakers, decided to sue the FCC, citing that its ruling is unconstitutional and circumvents “State’s Rights”. “Our state should be able to decide its own internet future without help from the federal government, thank you very much”, goes the logic. Full story here. Some of you may be aware that “State’s Rights” is an argument that has been used in the past to defend everything from slavery to the Jim Crow laws that made it illegal for blacks to vote. Some of the state legislators and our state attorney are backing the governor in his decision. “State’s Rights” may sound like a great idea in theory, but the reality is that it is not the state’s citizens that will gain from this lawsuit against the FCC, it will be the big telecom’s. And these are the folks that are really behind the lawsuit against the FCC.
EPB does not want to build out into Bradley County and other areas outside of their own electric power footprint until this lawsuit and related legal issues are resolved. Understandably. They are taking the high road and waiting until the state laws are changed before they feel they really have the green light to build, in order to avoid a nasty legal fight. They know how hard the telecoms will fight them, as they had to go through 4 lawsuits against them just to begin to build their fiber optic network for their own electric power footprint customers in Chattanooga, back in 2009. So for those of us who are in southern Bradley County, EBP’s next target build area, it will be a wait until we can get the laws changed in Nashville.