Broadband expansion bill put on hold in Tennessee Legislature

Authored By david.morton

Proponents of legislation that would remove barriers for municipal broadband providers’ expansion in Tennessee announced Tuesday afternoon the effort has been put on hold.

Support for the bill reportedly fell apart over the weekend. There is not enough support among state lawmakers, according to a news release from EPB, the Chattanooga-owned utility company that was pushing the effort.

State Sen. Janice Bowling of Tullahoma said she put the legislation on hold to make it easier to revisit in the next legislative session. However, she noted in a statement that the effort made more progress this year than it has in the past.

“Next year, I hope the needs of the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans with little or no broadband service will override the vested interests of the legacy carriers who refuse to serve them while lobbying to prevent community-based providers from meeting the needs of the people in our state,” she said.

If the legislation had passed, EPB planned to expand its fiber optic smart grid into neighboring Bradley County. Many homes and businesses in the western side of the county do not have access to high-speed broadband.

“In the 21st century, broadband infrastructure is just as critical as good roadways to the economic development and quality of life of a community,” EPB President Harold DePriest said. “Allowing investor-driven entities headquartered in other states to pick which Tennessee communities win and which lose when it comes to this critical infrastructure undermines the fundamental principle of local control.”

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is suing the Federal Communications Commission after the regulatory agency pre-empted the 1999 law preventing municipal broadband providers from expanding their operations beyond their electric service territories.

The bill sponsored by Bowling, state Rep. Kevin Brooks and a handful of state lawmakers would have also moved the territorial restrictions.