Tennessee Man Builds His Own Gigabit Network Thanks To State’s Protectionist Broadband Law

We’ve noted how Tennessee is one of twenty states that has passed state laws, quite literally written by companies like AT&T, prohibiting towns and cities from wiring themselves with broadband — even if nobody else will. When the FCC announced it would be taking aim at these protectionist broadband laws last year, Tennessee politicians threw a hissy fit, suing the FCC for "violating states rights." That incumbent ISPs are being allowed to write awful state law that’s hampering a generation of business development in the state? Not apparently much of a concern.

As an unsurprising result, Tennessee remains one of the least connected broadband states in the nation, and state residents have increasingly been giving beholden state politicians an earful. Those who can, like Tennessee developer John "Thunder" Thornton, have started taking matters into their own hands and building their own gigabit networks. To do so, Thorton had to get the aid of a power cooperative in Alabama, a state that has a slightly less restrictive municipal broadband law in place:

"Unable to gain high-speed broadband at what he deemed an affordable price from AT&T or Charter Communications and limited from service extensions from EPB’s ultra-fast Internet in Chattanooga, Thornton created his own Internet service provider last year. The private developer spent more than $400,000 to build his own fiber network and link it with a power cooperative in Stevenson, Ala., where fast broadband is available."

According to Thorton, the money he spent to wire his hilltop development cost a third of what AT&T was charging:

"Thornton said when he approached AT&T about providing Gig service to Jasper Highlands he was quoted a price of $1.3 million to serve his mountaintop development — more than three times what it ended up costing Thornton to build his own network connected to Alabama.

"Our costs are much less, but then I don’t have to pay for 27 lobbyists in Nashville like AT&T does," Thornton quipped.

So yeah, Tennessee lawmakers have done such a bang up job letting AT&T write awful state telecommunications law, state residents are being forced to spend their own money to get broadband at a relatively sane price. Sadly, most of the people that can’t get decent broadband can’t afford to go Thorton’s route. And while you’d think the cacophony of complaints from Tennessee residents would be enough to get some movement in the state legislature after a decade, all recent efforts to overturn the state’s protectionist law have gone nowhere.

Tennessee’s law prevents a popular Chattanooga-based utility-run ISP, EPB, from expanding its up to 10 Gbps offerings into any more markets. But attempts to repeal the law earlier this year went nowhere after mammoth pressure from incumbent ISP lobbyists. When that didn’t work, one lawmaker tried to pass a compromise bill that would have allowed EPB to expand into just one neighboring county. That proposal was shot down as well, one of the dissenting votes being that of Rep. Patsy Hazlewood, a former AT&T executive.

That leaves the FCC as the best, current option in getting some of these miserable laws overturned.

As it stands, the FCC is arguing that Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act allows it to preempt state laws that conflict with the agency’s Congressional mandate to guarantee "reasonable and timely" broadband deployment. While there’s twenty such laws, the FCC is currently trying to overturn just two: in Tennessee and North Carolina; the hope being the legal precedent then rolls downhill. But both states have taken the FCC to court, bravely defending their right to take campaign contributions — in exchange for protecting incumbent broadband providers from necessary and inevitable evolution.

Permalink | Comments | Email This Story

via Techdirt.
Tennessee Man Builds His Own Gigabit Network Thanks To State’s Protectionist Broadband Law