Tennessee sues FCC: Giving cities free rein to provide their own broadband is 'unlawful'

'Take me to another place, take me where they have internet'

Chattanooga

The US state of Tennessee is suing the FCC after the regulator declared that cities should be free to build their own municipal-owned broadband networks.

The Volunteer State wants to overturn that ruling, made in February, arguing the decision goes against heavy restrictions placed on government-owned organizations that compete with private biz.

Tennessee doesn't want its cities causing trouble for the likes of Comcast with working, affordable taxpayer-backed ISPs, in other words.

The state's attorney general Herbert Slattery has filed suit [PDF] against the FCC with the US court of appeals for the sixth circuit.

At issue is the FCC's contention that states cannot prevent city governments from launching and expanding their own public broadband services. Several US states, including Tennessee, have laws restricting how government agencies can run operations that compete with private businesses, including ISPs.

The FCC had taken up the cause of Chattanooga, a Tennessee city that wanted to expand its own municipal broadband service to citizens outside of its city-run electric grid, citing poor service quality from private broadband providers in the surrounding area.

Now Tennessee is accusing the FCC of overstepping its bounds and infringing on its right to run cities as it sees fit.

"The FCC preempts Tennessee law pertaining to the operation of municipal electric plants, including the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, an instrumentality of the City of Chattanooga, created and controlled by the State of Tennessee," the complaint reads.

"In so doing, the FCC has unlawfully inserted itself between the State of Tennessee and the State's own political subdivisions."

The state is asking the court to void the FCC ruling, requesting it "hold unlawful, vacate, enjoin, and set aside the order."

On one hand, broadband service should be prevalent throughout most of the US at this point, and when commercial providers can't provide a proper affordable option, cities should be able to step in. On the other, there is a reason commercial providers haven't launched in many of these areas; there's not much money to be made in these rural spaces, and the losses from operating the service will be shouldered by taxpayers. ®

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