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City praises FCC vote to overrule state laws regulating municipal broadband

By David Purtell and the Associated Press

david.purtell@salisburypost.com

The Federal Communications Commission’s decision Thursday to overrule state laws regulating municipal broadband is a major victory for Salisbury, city officials said.

In Washington, D.C., the FCC voted 3-2 to pre-empt state laws limiting two cities that had petitioned the commission, but the decision could set a precedent for other towns, such as Salisbury, in 19 states that enforce limits.

Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn., both have municipal broadband systems and petitioned the FCC to strike down state laws limiting the expansion of their super-fast Internet systems. The cities said they are providing a service their residents want and need.

North Carolina’s law, according to legislators, is meant to make sure public broadband systems don’t have a competitive edge over private ones.

The FCC ruling could lead to Salisbury being able to expand Fibrant outside of its preset boundaries — created when the state passed its law in 2011 — and connect people and businesses across the county, and possibly beyond, to the network.

“I think that is fantastic,” Mayor Paul Woodson said about the FCC’s decision.

Woodson said the FCC’s decision won’t lead to immediate changes for Fibrant, but that the city will adjust its plans for the future. He said city officials want to connect more businesses to Fibrant and start thinking about expanding the network to neighboring areas around the city.

In a press release about the ruling, Interim City Manager John Sofley said, “We are excited by the removal of statutory restrictions for Fibrant.  In some areas of the city there were citizens with Fibrant located in front of their homes and businesses, but legally we could not serve them.  We have had to decline to provide services just because someone was located on the opposite side of the street.  Now those citizens and businesses will have a choice in their providers.”

Woodson said, “We applaud the FCC commissioners for voting to uphold the ability of communities to make the best choices for their future. Salisbury committed to high-speed Internet five years ago with the launch of Fibrant and understands the importance of providing this vital infrastructure for our entire community.”

The FCC’s ruling on municipal broadband was part of a highly anticipated meeting where the five-member commission also voted to impose strict new regulations on Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.

The regulatory agency voted in favor of rules aimed at enforcing what’s called “net neutrality.” That’s the idea that service providers shouldn’t intentionally block or slow web traffic, creating paid fast lanes on the Internet. The new rules say that any company providing a broadband connection to your home or phone would have to act in the public interest and conduct business in ways that are “just and reasonable.”

Much of the industry opposes the regulations, which opponents say constitutes dangerous government overreach.

Lawsuits challenging both rulings are expected.

Contact David Purtell at 704-797-4264.

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