EPB wants FCC to pre-empt laws blocking fiber expansion

Authored By david.morton

The Electric Power Board wants to expand Internet service to neighboring rural communities, a move that would require changes to a state law prohibiting it from doing so.

In 1999, the Tennessee Legislature passed a law prohibiting the city-owned utility company from offering Internet or video services outside its electric service area. In some neighboring areas, people have little to no high-speed Internet connectivity. EPB said it has received regular requests from those communities to provide Internet infrastructure to them.

Harold DePriest, EPB president and CEO, said in a news release:

At EPB, we believe that Internet access is the critical infrastructure for the 21st century. True broadband infrastructure provides access to information, jobs and education and gives citizens and businesses the opportunity to fully participate in-and to lead-our emerging knowledge economy.

Communities should have the right, at the local level, to determine their broadband futures.

The issue has attracted the attention of the Federal Communications Commission, which could pre-empt laws in Tennessee and other states to remove barriers for publicly owned Internet providers. EPB is considering filing a petition to the FCC asking it to do so, The Center for Public Integrity reported Thursday:

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.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has said numerous times since he took over as chairman in November 2013, including in testimony before Congress, that he plans to pre-empt state laws that ban or place barriers on cities that want to build or expand broadband networks.

Updated @ 5:03 p.m. on 7/11/14 to add more information as it became available.