By Emery P. Dalesio, AP Business Writer
RALEIGH, N.C. — People in small communities may get better, cheaper access to the Internet after the Federal Communications Commission ruled Thursday that city-owned broadband services can expand into areas overlooked by commercial providers.
The decision quietly played out minutes before the FCC took up the higher-profile issue of Internet neutrality, which imposed the toughest rules yet on broadband providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T.
In the less prominent case, the cities of Wilson, North Carolina, and Chattanooga, Tennessee, asked the FCC to override state laws that have prevented them from expanding their super-fast Internet networks. They were built when companies didn’t move into their city.
President Barack Obama pushed for the FCC’s decision, saying the state laws stifled competition and economic development. U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina and U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, both Republicans, quickly introduced legislation to block the FCC move.
For Richard and Brenda Thornton, the FCC decision could mean a big savings. They live less than a mile from the service area for Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, which provides one gigabit-per-second Internet speeds. The Thorntons now pay $316 for landline phone service, Internet and television from wireless hot spots that two telephone companies offered. Their current connection is a fraction of the speed the Thorntons could get for $133 a month for the same bundle from Chattanooga.
The local cable company has refused to extend broadband service to their home, said Brenda Thornton, who likes to trade securities and commodities futures but can’t do it because of the slow wireless speed.