August 24, 2016

The corporate war against rural internet

American Prospect - For years, nearly 40 percent of people in rural America have been saddled with slow internet speeds and no opportunity to get broadband internet services which provide fast connections. Yet internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T and Verizon, that can’t turn enough profit from rural investments have also made it almost impossible for competitors to provide alternatives. With the assistance of groups like the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a network of state lawmakers and corporate officials, they’re spending millions of dollars lobbying for laws that bar municipalities from implementing alternative services.

Local governments have been fighting back by building their own municipal broadband networks, and in some cases, using a new technology that facilitates more private competition and innovation. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission issued an order preempting state laws that prevented two municipalities, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, from setting up their own broadband networks. Tennessee and North Carolina officials responded a few months later by suing the FCC.

But the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals recently sided with the two states and the telecommunications industry. The decision could be a setback for communities across the country that have invested millions of dollars in laying fiber optic cables, providing internet service on these networks, or working with smaller private service providers. The fight pits local officials, small entrepreneurs, and state legislators against the giants of the telecom industry and their multimillion-dollar lobbying machine.

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