Rural businesses may be stuck as FCC decides not to appeal municipal broadband loss

Image: Susan Walsh/Associated Press

Municipal broadband providers like the city of Wilson, North Carolina, are worried about the future in the wake of a federal court decision striking down an FCC order that would have given such providers the ability to expand, particularly since the commission is not planning to appeal the verdict.

In a New York Times article detailing the rise of muni broadband and its positive effect in rural areas, advocates expressed their disappointment in the court decision, saying that it will be much harder to fight for rule changes state by state.

“We had all looked to the FCC and its attempt to pre-empt those state laws as a way to get affordable and higher-quality broadband to places across the nation that are fighting to serve residents and solve the digital divide,” Next Century Cities Executive Director Deb Socia told the NYT.

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Wilson and other muni broadband providers like EPB in Chattanooga, Tennessee, took matters into their own hands several years ago when incumbent telcos and cable franchises in their area refused to either install higher-speed broadband or team with the cities to do so. However, in the wake of Wilson’s municipal deployment, the state of North Carolina passed legislation preventing the city from expanding its fiber-optic network beyond city limits.

When the FCC enacted its order last year pre-empting laws in North Carolina and Tennessee, Wilson expanded its network availability out to nearby areas, bringing high-speed broadband to underserved rural areas.

The federal court’s decision puts that broadband expansion in peril, the NYT said.

While FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in early August that the commission would “consider all our legal and policy options to remove barriers to broadband deployment wherever they exist,” the option of appealing the decision has apparently since been deemed not a good use of resources, according to an FCC spokesman in the NYT article.

For more:
- see this NYT article (tiered sub.)

Related articles:
Circuit court nixes FCC’s effort to overturn North Carolina, Tennessee anti-municipal broadband laws
Internet access neither 'necessity nor a human right,' FCC's O'Rielly says in live-streamed panel
Massachusetts government stymies WiredWest municipal broadband initiative, report says

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