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September 17, 2014

Chattanooga Plays Part in FCC's Desire to Trump State Law on Government Internet

  Tennessee Watchdog

By Chris Butler

NASHVILLE — Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler’s talk about using his agency to overrule state laws restricting the growth of government-owned networks that sell Internet service apparently is the result of a request from Chattanooga.

As previously reported, Tennessee is one of about 19 states that say GONs, usually carried out through public utilities — may not expand outside a utility’s designated service area, usually a city, according to state law. 

“Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga have petitioned the FCC to preempt state laws restricting municipal broadband,” FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said in an email to Tennessee Watchdog Tuesday.

“The FCC’s process for these petitions is to seek public comment, and then decide each one based on the specific facts and laws involved.”

Wheeler said earlier this year that trumping state laws at the federal level and allow those GONs to expand will help increase competition among telecommunications companies.

Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board used $111 million in federal stimulus money from taxpayers to create a smart grid for the city, which also allowed it to offer Internet and cable service.

Private Internet service provider David Snyder previously said he and many of his competitors have made an effort to avoid competing in the Chattanooga area due to EPB’s many advantages with taxpayer money.
EPB officials didn’t immediately return requests for comment Wednesday.

Snyder said in 2011 that private competitors could provide the same services for pennies on the dollar of what the government spent — when the free market demanded it.

Wheeler’s views aren’t going unchallenged within the FCC.

Matthew Berry, the chief of staff to FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, was quoted in one media outlet, saying Wheeler has no authority to overrule state law.

Wigfield didn’t answer questions Tuesday about the polar opposite messages coming from the two FCC officials, nor did he answer Tennessee Watchdog’s questions about many GONs histories of losing great amounts of taxpayer money.

FCC officials previously haven’t answered questions about government rules that allow cable companies to have monopolies.

Other media outlets, meanwhile, have portrayed private ISPs as villains.

capital in Nashville or say the Koch brothers are behind opposition to GONs.

Another media outlet says the FCC, under President Obama, is abusing its power.

“Its tendency to overreach its authority has been magnified by the Obama administration’s general contempt for limits on federal authority,” according to the Institute for Policy Innovation’s TechBytes. “So we can most likely expect the FCC to once again divert time and effort to a quixotic and almost certainly futile legal battle.”

Earlier this year, according to the Washington Post, the House of Representatives passed an amendment by U.S. Rep. Marshal Blackburn, R-Brentwood, that would prohibit the FCC from trumping Tennessee law.
The U.S. Senate has thus far not acted on it.

U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, who represents Chattanooga, was one of four Republicans who voted against Blackburn’s amendment, the Post said.

The Post quoted Fleischmann as saying Tennessee’s law goes against the will of his constituents in Chattanooga.
Members of Fleischmann’s office didn’t immediately respond to Tennessee Watchdog’s requests for comment Tuesday or Wednesday.


 

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