US Appeals Court Protects State Broadband Laws Literally Written By Big Telecom
In Motherboard Jason Koebler notes the continuing corporate takeover of our government:
Wednesday afternoon, a US Appeals Court ruled that the Federal Communications Commission does not have the power to preempt state laws that restrict cities from building community-owned broadband networks, killing two planned network expansions in Tennessee and North Carolina and once again showing how much power big telecommunications companies have over the American political system.
This particular court case has been going on for two years, but its origins date back much further. In the early 2000s, after several cities around the country—including Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina—created successful local government-owned gigabit broadband networks that threatened traditional power players such as Comcast and AT&T, telecom lobbyists began pushing laws through state legislatures that restrict such networks. Currently, 23 states have these sorts of laws on the books, and their origins can invariably be traced back to telecom lobbying.
In 2014, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the agency would attempt to use federal authority granted to it in the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which states the FCC should take “measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market,” to nullify state laws that prevent such competition. Wilson and Chattanooga each filed petitions with the FCC asking it to give them legal permission to expand their existing networks.
The FCC took up their cause and attempted to preempt laws in their states that were written specifically to prevent their networks from expanding. Both North Carolina and Tennessee sued the FCC, claiming that the federal government was taking steps that challenged the states’ rights to self rule.
The US Sixth Circuit of Appeals sided with the states on Wednesday, ruling that the Telecommunications Act of 1996’s authority did not specifically provide the commission with the power to “re-allocate decision-making power between the states and their municipalities.”
It’s important to remember that Wheeler’s attempt to preempt the North Carolina and Tennessee rules was an exercise in trying to retrofit an old federal law to fix the tyranny of what are quite literally corporate-bought state laws. The FCC’s failure to prevail in this particular legal case doesn’t say anything about whether the two state’s laws make any sense, are worth defending, or have the best interest of the people in mind.
It’s worth it, then, to look at just how the laws in Tennessee and North Carolina came into being, and who pushed for their passage.
After failing to enact meaningful barriers to community-owned broadband at the federal level, the telecom industry, through a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council, began heavy lobbying efforts on a state-by-state basis. The telecom industry wrote talking points and “model legislation” that was then handed to state legislators who were bought off by the industry.
A 2011 Bloomberg Businessweek article called, amazingly, “Psst … Wanna Buy a Law?” explains how a bill given to a Louisiana state lawmaker named Noble Ellington by telecom lobbyists then became a law in six separate states: . . .
UPDATE: The solution? See “Congress Should Support Community Broadband Networks,” by Sam Gustin in Mothereboard. And maybe, after the coming election, Congress will be in Democratic hands again and some action can be taken.