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City Broadband Cut Back

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For years, some city governments have been frustrated by the slow pace of broadband development for their citizens. They believe that internet service providers have been too slow to build high-speed networks, and that competing ISPs have been too slow to offer service in small urban areas. In their view, lack of competition forces consumer prices up and service quality down.

A few cities have taken matters into their own hands. Rather than wait for telecoms or cable companies to build high-speed networks, they built their own.

Two cities, Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina, not only offered gigabit-speed internet service to their own residents, they sought to extend their networks to outlying areas. The Tennessee and North Carolina legislatures enacted laws forbidding such extensions. The cities could keep their broadband networks, but couldn’t offer them outside their own jurisdictions.

Chattanooga and Wilson appealed the case to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC ruled in their favor, so the cities were free to extend their broadband networks beyond their borders.

The State of North Carolina wouldn’t accept the FCC’s challenge to its authority. The state filed a lawsuit against the FCC in a federal court.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Columbus, Ohio), issued its ruling in the case. Though a state cannot keep any city from offering broadband service to its own constituents, it may outlaw provision of such services to outlying communities. The Sixth Circuit rejected the FCC’s argument that the 1996 Telecommunications Act gave it a clear mandate to overrule the states.

The Sixth Circuit ruling might not settle the matter. The Fourth Circuit is considering a similar case, and the issue could go to the Supreme Court.

What does this mean for you? The case simply reinforces a point we’ve made earlier. To get the internet service that suits you best, you need to explore all of your options. Don’t rely on any city government. All, or almost all, of your best options are likely to be in the private sector.

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