Categories
Press Releases

TN Senate Dems Criticize Haslam, Lawmakers for Opposition to FCC Municipal Broadband Ruling

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus; March 3, 2015:

Consumers want choices, not government obstruction to limit Internet options

NASHVILLE – Tennessee lawmakers should embrace competition when it comes to broadband services, not work to limit consumer choice, Democratic leaders said.

“Anyone who has spent hours on the phone with a service provider to dispute a bill or get proper services knows consumers need more choices when it comes to Internet service,” Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris said. “It is disturbing to see lawmakers act so quickly to limit consumer choice when Tennesseans are demanding more.”

Last week the Federal Communications Commission ruled that Chattanooga’s EPB could provide lightning-speed Internet outside the municipal power distributor’s service area. The move would mean new options for consumers in the Chattanooga area and increased broadband speeds, which are a critical tool for economic development outside of major cities.

However, the governor, the attorney general and other lawmakers have stood in opposition to consumer choice, even considering a lawsuit against the federal government at great cost to the taxpayer.

“Communities like mine in rural West Tennessee don’t care so much about these technicalities,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “They care less about service areas and more about having access to fast, reliable Internet. If a provider wants to bring that to my constituents, I don’t think I want the state to get in the way.”

The decision whether to sue the FCC on this issue will be a true test of the attorney general’s independence.

“With the FCC ruling, consumers consider this matter settled,” Sen. Harris said. “No one wants to see our attorney general give in to demands from lawmakers who want to play politics rather than do what’s best for consumers and our economy.”

Categories
Business and Economy Featured NewsTracker

Bowling Looking to Ease Expansion Limits on Government-Owned ISPs

Calling high-speed internet “an essential utility for the 21st Century,” Sen. Janice Bowling wants to ensure rural Tennesseans have access to it.

Sponsored by Bowling and Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, SB1134/HB1303 would allow municipal broadband providers to expand if they “obtain the written consent” of electric co-ops serving the affected areas.

A Republican from Tullahoma, Bowling is pushing to repeal a 1999 state law that restricts municipal electric providers from offering Internet service beyond their designated boundaries.

The Federal Communications Commission also voted Thursday to override those state laws.

However, Bowling told TNReport she wasn’t sure when the ruling would take effect, and would prefer to “go ahead and do what we need to do in Tennessee.”

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the federal body’s action cuts away the “bureaucratic red tape” put on municipal broadband networks by states, and fulfills their congressional mandate to expand broadband service. “It is a well established principle that state laws that inhibit the exercise of federal policy may be subject to preemption in appropriate circumstances,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler called the decision “pro-competition,” and said consumers shouldn’t be restricted to “second-rate broadband.”

The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and other municipal providers want the leeway to provide their government-funded high-speed broadband to areas beyond their electric system’s borders.

However, Tennessee’s private sector broadband providers argue many rural residents do have access to broadband, and the high speeds touted by municipal providers, while fashionable, are unnecessary and shouldn’t be subsidized by local tax dollars.

Tennessee Telecommunications Association Executive Director Levoy Knowles told TNReport Thursday his organization is opposed to the federal government “taking that authority away from the states.” TTA opposes Bowling’s legislation as well.

“We don’t feel like it’s fair to be competing against government-owned facilities in these same areas that we’ve spent millions of dollars in to put forth a modern network and provide our customers high speed internet service,” Knowles said.

TTA is composed of 21 small Tennessee telephone and broadband companies that serve “approximately 30 percent” of rural Tennessee. Nearly all their customers “already have broadband capability available to them” and the Internet service packages they offer often include “the same speeds and services and products that you can get in the metropolitan areas,” said Knowles.

Bowling argues, however, that her measure removes “the regulatory restriction” government has imposed. She believes consumers should have choices of providers “so that the people, locally, can be self-determined.” Those choices should include the opportunity for a publicly funded “municipal electric provider to come in and negotiate a deal,” she said.

While she understands businesses have “a bottom line” to meet, Bowling posits that rural communities shouldn’t be “held hostage” by limited private-market choices. Furthermore, even if the Internet services that are currently available are sufficient, they often aren’t for commercial uses. “It doesn’t work for doctors and it doesn’t work for bankers, it doesn’t work for a lot of the commercial uses of fiber,” she said.

High-speed internet “is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th century,” Bowling said. She compared providing broadband service to rural communities to “what the 1937 Rural Electric Administration bill did nationally, to allow these co-operatives.”

“So essentially what I’m asking for is the ability to form these high-speed broadband cooperatives in areas that are under-served or un-served,” Bowling said.

The Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, which represents the state’s 60 municipal electric providers, favors Bowling’s bill.

In a recent press release, Jeremy Elrod, TMEPA’s director of government relations likened the issue to a city’s decision on how to best provide power and water and called Internet service “the next utility of the 21st century.”

“Municipal electric broadband should be allowed to be an option for more communities across Tennessee,” Elrod said.

But opponents of Bowling’s legislation contend if the goal is high-speed internet blanketing the state, government officials should get out of the way and facilitate free-market competition between existing providers by reducing regulations.

In December, Knowles said while he understands the desire to extend service to unserved areas, his organization is “opposed to allowing the expansion when there is already service available.”

“Because when my members compete with the municipals, then we’re also on their pole attachments and we’re paying taxes — ad valorem taxes and sales tax and other local taxes — and governmental agencies many times are exempt from those type of taxes,” Knowles said.

However, Bowling called that a “strawman” argument.

“There’s no advantage to being in the same utility group that owns the pole, because their business plan that is approved and checked by the comptroller has to show that that has been paid for,” Bowling said.

But while state-level Republicans seek to strike down the restriction, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. 07, has introduced legislation to block the FCC decision at the federal level. Blackburn also criticized the FCC’s vote in support of regulating the internet as a “1930s era public utility” under “net neutrality.”

Categories
Press Releases

Blackburn Files Bill to Block FCC From Overriding State Municipal Broadband Laws

Press release from U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. 07; February 26, 2015:

Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) today introduced legislation to prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from overriding state and local municipal broadband laws.

The Blackburn-Tillis legislation says that the FCC cannot pre-empt states with municipal broadband laws already on the books, or any other states that subsequently adopt such municipal broadband laws. The bill also includes a Sense of Congress stating that the FCC does not have the legal authority to prohibit states from implementing municipal broadband restrictions. Original co-sponsors of the House legislation included Representatives Mike Pompeo (R-KS), Robert Pittenger (R-NC), Renee Ellmers (R-NC), Mark Meadows (R-NC), and David Rouzer (R-NC).

Earlier today, the FCC voted to effectively overturn North Carolina and Tennessee state laws that set requirements and conditions on municipalities competing with the private sector in the broadband marketplace.

“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. Ironically, they will now be burdened by the poor judgment of a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and clearly cannot manage its own affairs.

“I’m pleased to be working with Senator Tillis on this important issue. As former state legislators, we strongly believe in States’ rights and will fight the FCC’s liberal agenda. Chairman Wheeler’s regulatory appetite appears to know no bounds and is seeping dangerously into the lives of Americans. It is time for Congress to assert itself and protect States once again from unelected Washington bureaucrats.”

“It is disturbing, yet not surprising, that the FCC and Chairman Wheeler are attempting to deny the sovereign right of states to make their own laws,” said Senator Tillis. “After witnessing how some local governments wasted taxpayer dollars and accumulated millions in debt through poor decision making, the legislatures of states like North Carolina and Tennessee passed commonsense, bipartisan laws that protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of free-market competition. 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.”

Click here to read the bill text of the States’ Rights Municipal Broadband Act