My comments to FCC supporting Chattanooga, TN & Wilson petitions to remove anti-muni net laws

It is way past time the FCC step in and put a stop to state legislative intrusion into the broadband affairs of Chattanooga and other local communities that are best able to make choices that are in their constituents’ best interests.

Over 400 public-owned networks operate in the United States, according to the Institute of Local Self-Reliance, including 89 fiber and 74 cable communitywide networks. Evaluating these networks’ impact on job creation, education and stirring innovation, as well as their financial sustainability, uncover hundreds of success stories that can be replicated once the barriers in Tennessee drop.

Some networks such as those in Cedar Falls, IA, Thomasville, GA, Santa Monica, CA and Bristol, VA have operated successfully for over 10 years. Danville, VA’s public utility’s network that launched in 2004 helped cut their unemployment in half, down from 19%, by directly enticing several large companies to the area, and driving a local technology industry that otherwise likely wouldn’t exist. Santa Monica, CA’s fiber network, launched the same year, reduced government voice and data communication by over $750,000 a year while building a $2.5 million surplus through the city’s savings plus selling fiber services to local businesses. Furthermore, community networks’ ROI often is not about revenue but benefitting the public good.

Dismantling legislative barriers would accelerate the number of interstate projects such a Chattanooga incubator that is using the public utility’s (EPB) gig network to link with the University of Texas at Dallas’ gig network to collaborate on a 3D printing project. Tennessee’s anti-muni network law currently prevents EPB from expanding its service to nearby communities desperate to open similar mutually beneficial opportunities with states not shackled by these laws.

Incumbent telecom and cable companies’ protestations that local government should not provide services that they, the private sector, will employ. In due time. These promises ring hollow given the industry’s past broken promises. “Between 1993 and 2013, large telephone and cable companies collected over $300 billion dollars in rate increases, tax breaks, changes in depreciation schedules for upgrades and other perks,” states Bruce Kushnick, Executive Director of New Networks Institute, a market research and consulting firm. To win these concessions, teams of incumbents’ lobbyists promised practically every state they’d deliver 45 Mbps of symmetrical bandwidth to tens of thousands of homes in each state. 20 years later we wait for promises made, but not kept.

EPB, in the early days of these incumbent fairy tales of 45 Mbps, began developing its own fiber infrastructure, though accumulating state legislative restrictions on their actions along the way. Despite these incumbent-instigated, state-imposed chains, EPB soldiered on to expand and enhance its infrastructure and services to where it now offers the entire Chattanooga community some of the fastest broadband in the nation.

Seeing Chattanooga’s success, many other cities in Tennessee are asking, nay, demanding “why not us!?” This state restriction is the only reason “why not us” cannot become “we’ve got a gig too, and our future looks bright!” With incumbents failing to deliver even a few megs of speed in many areas, we broadband champions demand the FCC defend the true free market against state intrusion.

If 10,000 people and businesses in a community spend $1 million a month for broadband services, those constituents are the broadband market. If that market isn’t satisfied, they have a right to vote with their personal dollars for a better solution. They also have a right to vote to spend their publicly generated dollars for a better solution, including allowing their local governments to run the networks.

Mr. Wheeler, tear down these walls that prevent Tennesseans from getting faster, better broadband!

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