A trio of prominent Tennessee House Republicans on Tuesday called for the state’s attorney general to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to strike down state restrictions on municipal broadband expansion.
Last week the FCC ruled in favor of the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and their request to set aside a 1999 Tennessee law limiting municipal electric providers to offering internet services only within their electric footprint.
House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, both of Franklin, as well as Dresden Rep. Andy Holt, vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, are urging state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to fight back against what they term the FCC’s “unconstitutional violation” of Tennessee’s sovereignty.
The three Republicans are accusing the FCC of having “usurped Tennessee law.”
In a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, Durham questioned the legality and appropriateness of “an unelected, federal body…overturn(ing) laws that have been made by the duly elected members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”
“I believe it’s another example of federal overreach. It doesn’t have to be the pen of Barack Obama and an executive order, sometimes it’s these unelected bodies like the FCC,” Durham said.
Whether or not the FCC ruling constitutes “good public policy or bad,” isn’t so much the issue as that the subverting of state laws sets “a very dangerous precedent,” said Durham.
According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the decision was made because “some states” have limited competition by designing “thickets of red tape,” and through its action, the commission is “cutting away that red tape consistent with Congress’s instructions to encourage the deployment of broadband.”
EPB officials, though cautious of possible pending litigation, praised the decision last week.
“Many neighbors have been struggling with the economic and educational disadvantages of not having access to broadband services. We are looking for the quickest path forward to help those neighbors join the 21st century information economy,” said Harold DePriest, EPB’s president and CEO, in a press release.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday he’s still weighing options and mulling the FCC ruling and hadn’t made a decision on if he supports Tennessee appealing. “Before you decide to appeal something, you have to make certain that there’s a reasonable reason to do that,” Haslam said, adding that he’ll be looking to Slatery for guidance on the issue.
Haslam said he recognizes “value” in people gaining access to high-speed Internet if it is otherwise unavailable, but there are also concerns about “the local government subsidizing something that makes it hard for business to compete.”
The General Assembly’s Democrats issued a press release Tuesday afternoon criticizing the governor and lawmakers for working “to limit consumer choice,” instead of supporting the FCC’s decision to expand the choice for Tennesseans.
According to both chambers minority leaders — Memphis Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley — Tennessee consumers “consider the matter settled” with the FCC ruling, and “don’t care so much about these technicalities,” if it means having access to high speed internet service.
Tullahoma Sen. Janice Bowling, a Republican, is pushing legislation this year to let municipal electric companies offer their services to what she called the “under-served or un-served” areas of the state.
Neither chamber has taken action on the bill.