Light Reading
Utilities in Chattanooga, Tenn. and Wilson, N.C. petition the FCC to let them expand their gigabit networks to surrounding communities.

Muni Utilities Take Gigabit Fight to FCC

Jason Meyers
7/28/2014
50%
50%

The municipalities and municipally-owned utilities that have been successfully providing broadband services are gearing up for a long battle, determined to address demand from surrounding communities to extend their networks -- even if they have to get approval to do it one community at a time.

Two of those entities -- EPB Fiber Optics in Chattanooga, Tenn., and the City of Wilson, N.C.'s Greenlight, an operating unit of Wilson Energy -- have petitioned the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to pre-empt state laws in their respective states that prevent utilities from providing Internet and video programming services outside of their utility service areas.

Both EPB and Greenlight argue that several surrounding communities have specifically requested the services provided on their gigabit networks -- clear evidence, they say, that the incumbent communications providers are not addressing the broadband needs of residents in those markets.

"We extend into parts of six counties, and on almost a weekly basis we have people from these surrounding counties requesting we bring services to their areas," says Will Aycock, general manager of Greenlight.

"Right outside of our territory you see people that have access only to dial-up," says Danna Bailey, vice president of corporate communications for EPB. "Over the past several years they've been asking us, as individuals and as communities, to bring our service to them. Tennessee law allows us to bring them phone, but that's not what they want. Local communities should be able to decide their own destiny."


For ongoing updates on Gigabit Cities and the municipal network debate, visit Light Reading's Broadband/FTTx content channel.


It's too early to say how the FCC will react to the petitions, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler specifically cited EPB's network in a recent blog post, in which he stated that it's in the best interests of consumers and competition that the FCC exercise its power to preempt state laws that ban or restrict competition from community broadband.

Last month, several members of Congress sent a letter to Wheeler urging him to combat efforts to restrict community ownership of broadband networks, using the powers given to the agency in the 1996 Telecom Act. Meanwhile, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) recently attached an amendment to the fiscal 2015 Financial Services appropriations bill that would keep regulators from modifying state laws prohibiting municipalities from building and operating broadband networks -- legislation that was narrowly approved in the House but still requires Senate approval and the signature of the President to become law. (See Dems Urge FCC Action to Protect Muni Nets, The Municipal Menace?.

What might the incumbents do?
The other significant question in all this is if, and how, the incumbent telcos and cable operators will respond -- and why they don't see the communities' desire for broadband services as incentive enough to develop their networks to be able to address it. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) operate in the Tennessee markets: AT&T did not respond to requests for an interview; and a spokesman for Comcast had no comment.

Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL) are the incumbents in the communities around Wilson. A spokesman for Time Warner Cable replied to an email question about how the company is addressing broadband demand in the areas mentioned in the Wilson petition by stating "we're focused on serving the communities where we're currently offering service right now."

He also provided a statement from Marcus Trathen, counsel to the North Carolina Cable Telecommunications Association: "We are in the process of reviewing the petition filed by the City of Wilson. It is important to understand that North Carolina's level playing field law does not prevent cities from providing competitive communications services -- it only sets the rules if they choose to compete."

A CenturyLink spokesman responded to Light Reading's email request for an interview with a statement: "CenturyLink currently is able to serve 96% of the homes in our North Carolina service area with high-speed Internet. We feel that with the passage of HB129, the North Carolina General Assembly has outlined a clear pathway for cities to build municipal networks with specific consumer protections. This law puts the decision of whether to incur debt into the hands of the citizens, and is similar to the ways that municipalities allow the citizens to decide whether to build schools or improve roads. The City of Wilson is simply trying to bypass their citizens, governor, legislature, and state policy."

One opponent of municipally provided broadband maintains that the matter should be handled at the state and federal government level, not by the FCC.

"It's a conversation for states to have about how they're going to spend taxpayer dollars, or a conversation about federal subsidies or federal laws that pre-empt state laws," says Berin Szoka, president of TechFreedom, a non-profit think tank that Szoka says is supported by AT&T, Comcast, Google Fiber and others. "The FCC does not have this authority."

Teresa Mastrangelo, founder and principal analyst of Broadbandtrends LLC , says she doesn't understand the arguments put forward by the Congressional opponents to municipal broadband, but acknowledged that the FCC's authority might be limited and that federal law favors the incumbents.

"Why would you not want investment in your state? It's been my impression that they don't care about these small communities. Clearly these members of Congress have a lot of funding coming to them from big players," she says. "The Communications Act is actually preventing people from participating in the digital age in these cases. In un-served and under-served markets, there should be exceptions to this rule."

— Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Utility Communications/IoT, Light Reading

(3)  | 
Comment  | 
Print  | 
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
KBode
50%
50%
KBode,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 6:23:26 PM
CenturyLink...
"The City of Wilson is simply trying to bypass their citizens, governor, legislature, and state policy."

Said the company that literally writes draft legislation, then throws money at lawmakers until they adopt it -- however abysmal it is. The same company that (even as Qwest) worked tirelessly to take the right to decide what is best for themselves away from citizens...

I love the pretense from folks (Blackburn, etc) ok with duopolies literally writing the law that they care a whit about local state citizen rights.
jasonmeyers
50%
50%
jasonmeyers,
User Rank: Blogger
7/28/2014 | 1:16:28 PM
Re: Interests and Competition
@smkinoshita, I agree, and I think the laws are confusing to us all. I wonder if one thing we might see emerge here are hybrid efforts by some municipalities -- dark fiber initiatives, perhaps, or even neutral conduit along rights of ways to encourage more competitive providers to come to come to town.
smkinoshita
50%
50%
smkinoshita,
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 11:24:52 AM
Interests and Competition
"The City of Wilson is simply trying to bypass their citizens, governor, legislature, and state policy."

Nothing smells more of deception than a line like that.

I can't begin to understand the laws in effect here as I'm Canadian and we have our own mess, but to me it sounds like the old story of those in a comfortable place not wanting competition.  After all, competition is always good for the consumer and in the long run it's good for business too since it forces learning smarter practices, but businesses always fight it because it's bad for them in the short.
Flash Poll
From The Founder
It's clear to me that the communications industry is divided into two types of people, and only one is living in the real world.
LRTV Documentaries
Paul Bunyan's Giant Gigabit Plans

12|22|14   |   03:26   |   (0) comments


Gary Johnson, the CEO and GM of Minnesota rural operator Paul Bunyan Communications, discusses the company's 5,000-square-mile gigabit network rollout.
LRTV Interviews
CenturyLink: Building the Case for NFV

12|19|14   |   02:14   |   (0) comments


At the 2020 Vision Executive Summit, James Feger, VP, Network Strategy & Development at CenturyLink, talks about how the US operator is approaching virtual network functions from an operational and business case perspective.
LRTV Interviews
Liberty Global Sees Business Goldmine

12|18|14   |     |   (0) comments


Steen Sorensen, VP of business services for Liberty Global, explains where the giant international MSO sees growth potential.
LRTV Documentaries
EE: The Road to 5G

12|16|14   |   16:02   |   (1) comment


Andy Sutton, the principal network architect at UK mobile operator EE, explains how his company is using Wembley stadium as a wireless test bed and how that's helping EE to plan the evolution to 5G.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Highlights of Huawei's NFV Open Cloud Forum 2014

12|16|14   |     |   (0) comments


Huawei hosted its inaugural NFV Open Cloud Forum during the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014 in Düsseldorf, Germany. The Forum brought together technology thought leaders, senior executives and telecom professionals from global carriers, industry associations, as well as other partner companies in the ecosystem, to exchange views on and collectively explore how ...
LRTV Custom TV
Realizing Operators' Digital Vision

12|16|14   |   5:23   |   (0) comments


Leveraging technology is fundamental to digital transformation but understanding customers and serving them really well is at the heart of digital businesses. TM Forum lists the following as the strategic pillars of the digital business: business agility and rapid innovation, operational agility and effectiveness, IT and data centricity, plus customer centricity. ...
LRTV Documentaries
US Cellular Injects Analytics Into LTE

12|16|14   |   2:57   |   (1) comment


US Cellular's Mario Vela explains how the operator uses analytics for network planning and what comes next as the carrier looks to eke more value out of its metrics.
LRTV Interviews
How Cox Biz Plans to Keep Growing

12|15|14   |     |   (2) comments


Steve Rowley, SVP of Cox Business, details how the third-biggest US MSO intends to boost its revenues to $2 billion and beyond over the rest of the decade
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Interview With Bill Zhang, Director of SoftCOM Product Management, Huawei

12|15|14   |   2:50   |   (0) comments


Bill Zhang elaborated on Huawei's open philosophy in NFV solution development and network architecture design at the SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014.
LRTV Huawei Video Resource Center
Event Highlights: Huawei at SDN & OpenFlow World Congress 2014

12|15|14   |   3:43   |   (0) comments


Huawei joined the 2014 SDN & OpenFlow Congress as one of the key sponsors and contributors. At the event, Huawei reinforced the openness and flexibility of its network infrastructure strategies, and provided updates on its SDN and NVF innovations. Through participations at the exhibitions, forums and speeches, Huawei encouraged the industry to "think bigger and ...
LRTV Interviews
How Cable Biz Services Hit $10B Mark

12|12|14   |     |   (1) comment


Cable operators reached $10 billion in annual business services revenues by delving deeper into their vertical markets and expanding beyond the smallest firms.
LRTV Documentaries
Mediacom Aims to Test Connected Tractors

12|11|14   |   05:07   |   (3) comments


Cable business service provider is taking its services to the 'agribusiness' sector in partnership with farm equipment specialist John Deere and is getting involved in Gigabit Cities developments.
Upcoming Live Events
February 10, 2015, The Westin Peachtree Plaza, Atlanta, GA
March 17, 2015, The Cable Center, Denver, CO
April 14, 2015, The Westin Times Square, New York City, NY
May 6, 2015, McCormick Convention Center, Chicago, IL
May 13-14, 2015, The Westin Peachtree, Atlanta, GA
June 9-10, 2015, Chicago, IL
Hot Topics
T-Mobile, BlackBerry Flirt With Reuniting
Sarah Reedy, Senior Editor, 12/17/2014
1-Gig: Coming to a Small Town Near You
Jason Meyers, Senior Editor, Gigabit Cities/IoT, 12/17/2014
Comcast Launches 4K Streaming Service
Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, 12/18/2014
US Carriers, You're Going to Cuba!
Mitch Wagner, West Coast Bureau Chief, Light Reading, 12/18/2014
Google Steering Android Towards Cars – Report
Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, 12/19/2014
Like Us on Facebook
Twitter Feed
Webinar Archive