Thursday, July 10, 2014

Broadband monopolies: A fight with broad benefits

Posted By on Thu, Jul 10, 2014 at 1:06 PM

Here's a story that resonates in Arkansas from the Center for Public Integrity.

The city of Chattanooga's public utility will seek federal help that will allow it to pre-empt state law and expand its super-fast broadband service into nearby communities.

Sound familiar?

It should. Arkansas in 2011 bowed to telecom lobbyists and prevented public utilities from getting into the cable TV and broadband business. This has been an issue lately in the fight by a powerful lobby financed by Walton money — and they are lobbying to beat the band though as yet unregistered as lobbyists — to change the state law so that a state broadband network that serves colleges can also serve public schools.

The move by Chattanooga will be a first salvo in an effort by municipalities and the FCC to reverse the laws in 20 states that ban or severely restrict local governments from offering Internet service to residents.


This has long been a passion of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

...Wheeler wrote in his blog, “I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercises its power to pre-empt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband. Given the opportunity, we will do so.”

Chattanooga’s network, which covers 600 square miles and serves 60,000 customers, has received wide acclaim for attracting high-tech businesses to the area and providing residents with speeds they couldn’t purchase from the area’s private Internet and cable providers such as Comcast and Charter.

In Arkansas, the fight pits money v. money. It seems unlikely to be decided until 2015, though FASTERArkansas, the unregistered lobbying group, is having a telephone town hall tonight as part of its furious campaign to overcome the state law. Gov. Mike Beebe backs the change they favor, but he won't call yet another special session unless a clear majority exists to get the change done. That will mean overcoming telephone company resistance, which won't be as easy as overrunning school teachers or labor unions or passing something beneficial for the St. Louis owners of the casino in Hot Springs.

High irony here, too, in the Waltons arguing that the state can provide better and cheaper broadband service than private enterprise.

UPDATE: A spokesman for FASTERArkansas tells me lobbying registration papers are prepared for filing. Good. They'll be easier to like with more transparency.

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