To date, those court cases have been thwarted by EPB. However, it is a different story in state legislatures. Once again abandoning the business lobby’s typical call for less government intervention, telecom firms have successfully pushed 20 states to pass laws limiting the reach of community-owned utilities like EPB.
That’s where Washington comes in. With Census figures showing more than 1 in 5 Tennessee residents having no Internet connection, EPB is now proposing to offer its ultra-fast services to new communities. But it needs the Federal Communications Commission to preempt the Tennessee statute prohibiting the utility from competing with private telecom companies outside its current market.
For EPB, the good news is that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly pledged that in the name of competition and broadband access, he will support preempting state laws like Tennessee’s. However, in a capital run by money, EPB may still be politically overpowered. After all, as a community-owned utility in a midsized city, EPB does not have the lobbyists and campaign cash to match those of behemoths like Comcast and AT&T. What the utility does have is a solid track record and a pro-consumer, pro-competition argument.
The question is: Will that be enough to prevent Wheeler from backing down or being blocked by Congress? The future of the Internet may be at stake in the answer.
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Two words come to mind: Grade Inflation.
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