Chattanooga rally backs FCC overruling TN broadband restrictions

State legislators, mayors and private-sector leaders all gathered in “Gig City” – that’s Chattanooga — to support recent petitions to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would vacate state restrictions on community broadband operations in Tennessee and North Carolina, reports Government Technology magazine.

The pundits stressed that rural areas with limited or no access to broadband will be unable to develop, attract and retain bright young minds and new businesses unless cities are free to operate publicly owned networks.

Tennessee Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, called the Internet “the essential utility of the 21st century,” adding that Tennessee’s restriction on expanding Chattanooga’s gigabit network needs to be lifted.

“What needs to [happen] is removing the restriction of the electronic footprint, so anybody who wants to provide accessible, high-speed broadband will not be encumbered by unnecessary regulations,” Bowling said.

The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., filed petitions with the FCC earlier this year asking it to vacate state laws that are preventing cities from providing and expanding communications services. The filings are in response to years of the cable industry lobbying state lawmakers to enact barriers to municipal networks under the premise that local governments have a competitive advantage under established state regulations.

While the FCC hasn’t indicated that it will take up the petitions, the issue has become widespread throughout the U.S. Nineteen states currently have legislative barriers that discourage or prevent municipal broadband networks, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, an organization that advocates for equitable community development.

Also at the hearing, Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke expressed pride at how a city he couldn’t wait to leave in the 1980s has now become what he feels is the “greatest mid-size city in America,” thanks to the foresight of city leaders to build a smart grid with fiber optics extended to every home and business.

Berke noted, however, that increased connectivity beyond Chattanooga’s borders will be necessary to further develop the area’s economic future.

“Our connections provide markets for us to export our products to and to talk with people to improve our communities,” he said. “We believe our petition in front of the FCC is truly an important next step for us as we grow our high-speed network.”