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Plucky cable billionaires defeat menace of small-town broadband

Tennessee kills bid to expand muni fiber network

By Shaun Nichols in San Francisco

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The city of Chattanooga in Tennessee has been told it cannot expand its broadband service to other counties.

The state's legislature has effectively canned a bill that would have allowed Chattanooga's municipal broadband service into neighboring Hamilton and Bradley counties.

According to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the House Business and Utilities Subcommittee decided not to advance the bill from state representative Kevin Brooks that would have allowed for an initial demonstration project to show how Chattanooga's network could be expanded into underserved parts of the two neighboring counties, where they say the cable and phone companies have been unwilling or unable to offer quality broadband service.

Chattanooga has operated its own broadband network since 2009, when the city, citing a lack of decent service by the incumbent cable and phone line broadband providers, decided to go it alone.

The project created a controversy between the city government and the state, which has laws on the books that prevent local government from going into competition with privately-owned companies. Chattanooga was eventually allowed to build its broadband network despite objections from cable companies.

The city's network became a model for other cities wishing to build their own muni broadband networks, and to challenge the notion that Comcast and other cable giants should not be forced to compete with local utility companies.

Brooks had first proposed letting the muni broadband service expand to other electrical co-op companies around the state, then later scaled back the bill to run a single demonstration project. That revised bill was defeated in committee 5-3.

According to the Times Free Press, Brooks plans to present a second attempt at the bill in next year's legislative session. ®

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