Home > Uncategorized > The Broadband Fight Isn’t Over as the Telecom Oligarchs Win in Court

The Broadband Fight Isn’t Over as the Telecom Oligarchs Win in Court

As one who has long ascribed to the belief that expanded broadband is a civil rights issue, I am distressed to read articles like the one by Cecilia Kang in today’s NYTimes describing the recent “victory” in federal courts that prevents local governments from expanding their municipal broadband services to nearby communities who are less affluent. Titled “Broadband Law Could Force Rural Communities Off Information Superhighway”, Kang’s article describes a law passed by NC legislators that made it illegal for municipalities to extend their broadband to neighboring communities even though those municipalities already offer electricity to those communities. Sadly, the federal district court in NC and TN did not buy into the notion that broadband is a utility the same way electricity is and instead bought into the wrongheaded thinking of NC legislators that offering broadband might pose a risk for taxpayers. Here’s the background on the case:

In 2011, companies like Time Warner Cable, represented by the cable lobbying association, asked the North Carolina legislature to adopt a law to limit Wilson’s ability to serve customers outside Wilson County, even though the city serves electricity customers in four additional counties.

Grant Goings, Wilson’s city manager, said the court decision made it unclear “how we can bridge the digital divide and create economies of the future when there are corporate interests standing in the way.”

But some lawmakers and free-market-oriented think tanks say public broadband projects should be carefully scrutinized by local regulators because they are costly and, if unsuccessful, can be a financial burden on taxpayers. In addition, the F.C.C. cannot intervene in state laws, they said.

The court decision “affirms the fact that unelected bureaucrats at the F.C.C. completely overstepped their authority by attempting to deny states like North Carolina from setting their own laws to protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of the free market,” Thom Tillis, a Republican United States senator who pushed through the 2011 bill when he was North Carolina’s House speaker, said in a statement.

The bottom line is that those who can afford broadband see their advantage as an example of “the fairness of the free market” while those who look at this issue from afar see those without broadband as unfairly disadvantaged. The small rural communities in NC and TN should thank their lucky stars that Mr. Tillis and his ilk were not in power when FDR decided electrification was needed or else they would be in the dark today since some unelected bureaucrat at the FCC determined they needed to have power lines extended into their towns. Time Warner doesn’t want rural customers to get broadband unless they can pay a premium price for it and they are willing to contribute whatever it takes to make sure the free market’s “fairness” is maintained.

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