The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued their order on August 10th supporting the states of Tennessee and North Carolina in their challenge from an FCC decision from February 2015. Both states objected to the FCC’s decision to preempt state laws preventing municipalities from providing fast, affordable, reliable connectivity via municipal Internet networks. The Appellate Court Judges reviewed the legal arguments, the precedent, and the interplay between federal authority and state sovereignty.
The impact of their ruling will affect more than a few pages in a law school text book. Access to high-quality Internet access positively impacts real people and businesses and, as Cecila Kang captures in her recent article in the New York Times, the people who depend on it fear the outcome if their state legislators take it away.
Family Farm Fear
Kang profiles Vick Family Farms, a family potato farm in Wilson, North Carolina. The Vick family chose to invest in a processing plant when they learned that Wilson’s Greenlight would provide the necessary connectivity. Greenlight allowed them to increase sales overseas. Now, they may lose that connection:
“We’re very worried because there is no way we could run this equipment on the internet service we used to have, and we can’t imagine the loss we’ll have to the business,” said Charlotte Vick, head of sales for the farm.
As Kang notes in her article, the FCC has no plans to appeal the decision, so battles will resume at the state level. Advocates will need to be twice as vigilant because incumbents - the only ones that come out ahead from this decision - may try to push state legislators for even tougher anti-competitive state barriers.
Pinetops: Poster Child For Good Connectivity
Kang checks in on the small town where Wilson’s Greenlight began offering Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) Gigabit service about 14 months ago. Pinetops, a nearby community of about 1,300 people, sought help from Wilson in the hopes that Greenlight would spark economic activity in their struggling community. Centurylink, the incumbent only offered DSL, grossly inadequate for local businesses.
When Greenlight expanded to Pinetops, the town saw the beginning of a rebirth of sorts. Now the community waits in limbo, wondering what will happen next.
Kang introduces readers to Tina Gomez:
Tina Gomez, a Pinetops resident, quickly saw Greenlight’s benefits. She recently got a telework job with General Electric, which requires reliable high-speed internet service to run a customer service software program. Ms. Gomez, 37, also started online courses in medical billing and coding. Before subscribing to Greenlight, finding telework was a challenge because the existing home internet service was too slow, she said.
Now the political squabble over broadband may hurt her livelihood. Mark Gomez, Ms. Gomez’s husband, said they would move from Pinetops to Wilson when their broadband service was disconnected.
“We can’t stay if the basic services we need aren’t here,” Ms. Gomez said.
Beyond The Courtroom
Executive Director of Next Century Cities Deb Socia summed it up when she told Kang:
“This is about more than North Carolina and Tennessee...We had all looked to the F.C.C. and its attempt to pre-empt those state laws as a way to get affordable and higher-quality broadband to places across the nation that are fighting to serve residents and solve the digital divide.”