Tennessee is putting its municipal broadband expansion bill on hold even after gaining support from the FCC. Earlier this year, the FCC voted to allow Chattanooga to go around local prohibitions on expanding its municipal network in order to offer the city backed service to surrounding towns. That vote gave tacit support to a bill that was already moving forward in the statehouse which would allow the network to expand without having to go around existing laws.
Still, both the bill and the expansion plan face opposition from local lawmakers backed by telecom companies. They argue that municipal networks make for unfair competition. Tennessee has also sued the FCC over its decision saying that the move was unconstitutional federal overreach. The backlash against the FCC decision also includes Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn who recently sponsored a federal measure aimed at curbing municipal networks.
Backers of the expansion bill – State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland and co-sponsor state Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma have opted to roll the bill over to the 2016 legislative calendar in order to shore up more support in light of this division.
“We have had a lot of good progress, and we don’t want to throw it all away,” Brooks told The Tennessean.
This is the third expansion bill brought before the legislature, all previous efforts having failed. Yet demand for services remains in the towns surrounding Chattanooga and elsewhere in the state.
Chattanooga’s high profile municipal network has been a success case for municipal broadband supporters, as it offers gigabit service and has been a catalyst in growing the local economy.