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Tennessee sues the FCC to stop city-run internet

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By re-classifying broadband internet as a utility, the FCC has effectively declared that it's a right, nay a necessity, for every American. That's why it also dismantled laws in states like Tennessee that restrict municipalities from supplying broadband and competing against private companies like AT&T and Comcast -- often with much better services. But on the same day that the broadband industry sued the FCC to stop net neutrality rules, the state of Tennessee also sued the regulator to overturn its city-friendly decision. It claims that the FCC "has unlawfully inserted itself between the State of Tennessee and the State's own political subdivisions," calling it "arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion."

Residents in rural areas near cities who want faster internet might find that charge ironic, however. Legislators in Tennessee, North Carolina and 30-odd other states have tried to curb municipal internet expansion at the behest of private internet providers -- even if that means rural constituents have poor or non-existent service. In fact, the broadband industry actually drafted much of the state legislation used to curb city internet services.

Meanwhile, the FCC is convinced that any attempts to undermine its municipality ruling will fail. It told Ars Technica "we are confident that our decision to pre-empt laws in two states that prevented community broadband providers from meeting the needs and demands of local consumers will withstand judicial scrutiny." If the agency prevails, the precedent could allow other municipalities facing state bans to proceed with broadband expansion.

We are confident that our decision to pre-empt laws in two states... will withstand judicial scrutiny.

In addition, other Tennessee politicians are lobbying to get rid of all city broadband restrictions independently of the FCC's ruling. Bills filed today would allow city-run services like Chattanooga's Electric Power Board (EPB) to offer high-speed internet in adjacent communities. However, similar bills supporting municipal internet have failed in the past. AT&T has also publicly opposed the bills, saying "we believe that this policy will discourage the private sector investment that has delivered the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today." We wouldn't call a 30th place global ranking "world-class" -- if US internet from private industry wasn't so terrible and expensive, the FCC and municipalities wouldn't have needed to intercede in the first place.

[Image credit: Associated Press]

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