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Muzzling municipal broadband in Tennessee

From an article by Josh Cohen on NextCity.org:

In a world increasingly reliant on high-speed internet for all facets of life, about 34 percent of Tennesseans lack broadband access. Two state bills were considered this year to remedy that. One would’ve allowed city-owned high-speed internet infrastructure to expand at no cost to residents. Another outlined an offer of $45 million in subsidies to private internet service providers to build the same infrastructure. Only the latter passed.

Chattanooga is the municipal broadband poster child. In 2010, the city became a rarity on two fronts. Electric Power Board (EPB), the city utility, built its own internet network, and Chattanooga became the first city in the U.S. to provide a 1 gigabit connection. Though that’s already hundreds of times faster than average American broadband speeds, EPB upped its game in 2015 by launching the world’s first 10-gigabit network.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke credits the municipal broadband network with spurring an economic recovery. Schools and businesses get extremely fast internet. Residents pay $70 a month for 1-gigabit internet at home (less than what many people in the U.S. pay for slower internet in other cities). And, as is often the case with city-owned utilities, EPB offers low-income residents deeply discounted broadband.

Unsurprisingly, surrounding towns and suburbs want access to that network. EPB wants to expand as well. But they cannot. A state law pushed by private telecom companies prohibits public utilities with broadband networks from expanding beyond city limits. The Federal Communications Commission overturned that law in 2015, but an appellate court reversed the FCC’s ruling, meaning the law still stands.

… Still, there is strong support for municipal broadband in the U.S. A new survey from Pew Research Center found 70 percent of people think governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if “existing services in the area are either too expensive or not good enough.”

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