North Carolina Sues FCC To Keep Limits On Municipal Broadband

It’s been a big year for North Carolina in terms of improving the Internet connections for many of its residents. Google Fiber will bring new options to multiple markets in the state, and the FCC acted against a state law that limits municipal broadband providers from expanding their services. But rather than acknowledge that maybe it shouldn’t let Time Warner Cable dictate state laws, North Carolina has sued the FCC.

Last week, the state filed a petition [PDF] with the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking review of the FCC order from February that allows the city of Wilson, NC, to expand its municipal broadband network outside of its home county.

Even though Wilson’s city-operated power company was selling service to six other counties, a 2011 state law, backed by Time Warner Cable, prohibited the city from offering its broadband service outside the county border. The city said it had been forced to deny multiple requests for service because of this law.

In February, the FCC voted to preempt that state law, and a similar one in Tennessee, saying that they were in conflict with the FCC’s statutory obligation to encourage the deployment of high-speed Internet connections.

The state’s petition alleges that the FCC “unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State’s political subdivisions,” that the Commission overstepped its authority, and that the order is “arbitrary, capricious, and an abuse of discretion within the meaning of the Administrative Procedure Act.”

The FCC (or at least the three commissioners who voted in favor of this order) has maintained that federal law gives it the authority to intervene when a state or local statute inhibits the deployment of broadband.

Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act states that all state agencies in charge of regulating telecommunications “shall encourage the deployment on a reasonable and timely basis of advanced
telecommunications capability to all Americans… by utilizing, in a manner consistent with the public interest, convenience, and necessity, price cap regulation, regulatory forbearance, measures that promote competition in the local telecommunications market, or other regulating methods that remove barriers to infrastructure investment.”

That law also dictates that if the FCC finds that broadband is not being adequately deployed to all Americans, if shall take “immediate action to accelerate deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”

North Carolina isn’t alone in wanting to bar cities and counties from offering residents choice in broadband services. More than 20 states have laws that severely limit or outright ban municipalities from selling broadband to consumers.

[via Ars Technica]