Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The decision "appears to halt the promise of jobs, investment, and opportunity that community broadband has provided in Tennessee and North Carolina," said FCC commissioner Tom Wheeler. (Photo: DeclanTM/flickr/cc)

Win for Telecom Giants as Court Puts Dagger in Municipal Broadband

'Industry-backed state laws to block municipal broadband only exist because pliant legislators are listening to their Big Cable and Big Telecom paymasters'

Andrea Germanos

A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) effort to expand municipal broadband.

Reuters described the decision as "a win for private-sector providers of broadband internet and a setback for FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler."

"These corporate providers invest in campaign contributions rather than in deploying high-quality broadband."
- Michael Copps, Common Cause
For his part, Wheeler, who had promoted the policy, said the decision "appears to halt the promise of jobs, investment, and opportunity that community broadband has provided in Tennessee and North Carolina," adding, "The efforts of communities wanting better broadband should not be thwarted by the political power of those who, by protecting their monopoly, have failed to deliver acceptable service at an acceptable price."

In Feb 2015, the FCC passed rules to preempt state limits on municipal broadband rules in North Carolina and Tennessee. That move was praised as "a watershed moment that will serve as a check against the worst abuses of the cable monopoly for decades to come."

But on Wednesday, "A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected the FCC's justification of its authority and struck down the agency's action," as The Hill reports.

ArsTechnica adds:

About 20 states have laws restricting the rights of cities and towns to compete against private Internet service providers. Municipal ISPs in Tennessee and North Carolina wanted to expand outside their territories but were blocked from doing so by state laws, and thus asked the FCC to preempt the statutes. If the FCC had won, cities and towns in other states could have followed suit and asked the FCC to overturn restrictive laws throughout the nation.

Open internet advocacy group Free Press also previously noted: "Companies like AT&T, with the help of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), have pushed through legislation blocking municipal broadband."

And last year at The New Yorker, Vauhini Vara outlined why the service is so essential:

Some of the areas around Chattanooga and Wilson don't have broadband Internet access at all, or else it exists only at low speeds; parents report driving their children to local churches or to McDonald's so they can get online and finish homework assignments. Such efforts, proponents argue, demonstrate that, although the Internet may once have been a luxury, these days it's a form of infrastructure, not dissimilar to water pipes or roads—and that towns lacking reliable access to it risk falling behind.

Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now an advisor for advocacy group Common Cause, said the decision harms the public interest. "Let's be clear: industry-backed state laws to block municipal broadband only exist because pliant legislators are listening to their Big Cable and Big Telecom paymasters," he said in a statement. "These corporate providers invest in campaign contributions rather than in deploying high-quality broadband."

"This decision does not benefit our broadband nation," Copps' statement continued. "Nor is it a good reading of the law. But if the FCC cannot set aside these bad laws, then the people must. We will redouble our state-by-state efforts to repeal these odious policies."


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Biden White House Dismisses WHO Call for Moratorium on Vaccine Boosters

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki touted U.S. vaccine donations to poor countries, but public health advocates have warned the Biden administration isn't doing nearly enough.

Jake Johnson ·


Democrats Demand Amazon and Facebook End Efforts to 'Sideline' FTC Chair Lina Khan

"Your efforts only add to the perception that you are attempting to bully your regulators, disarm the FTC, and avoid accountability rather than to strengthen ethics standards."

Jessica Corbett ·


Amnesty Follows House Dems' Letter by Imploring Biden to Close Gitmo 'Once and for All'

"This letter, signed by four House committee chairs, should send a clear message to President Biden: He has the political support to swiftly close the detention center at Guantánamo."

Brett Wilkins ·


'Truly Disturbing': Facebook Blasted for Blocking NYU Researchers Examining Ad Model and Misinformation

"It is disgraceful that Facebook is attempting to squash legitimate research that is informing the public about disinformation on their platform."

Jessica Corbett ·


After Decades-Long Grassroots Push, Key Senate Panel Votes to Repeal Iraq War Authorization

Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of the U.S. House to vote against the AUMF in 2001, called the vote "a major victory in our fight to end forever wars."

Julia Conley ·