While Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s “Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act” has been in the news, several other Legislators have introduced companion bills earlier this month that deserve attention.
A Few Gems
SB 1058 and HB 0970, from Senator Janice Bowling and Representative Dan Howell, would allow municipal electric utilities, such as Chattanooga’s EPB, Tullahoma Utilities Board, or Jackson Energy Authority to expand beyond their electric service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 reclaims local authority for municipalities that want to offer telecommunications service either alone or with a partner.
Bowling has also introduced SB 1045, a bill that allows municipal electric utilities and electric cooperatives the ability to offer telecommunications services either on their own or with private sector partners. SB 1045 and it’s companion, HB 1410, sponsored by Terri Lynn Weaver in the House, specifies that there are to be no geographic limits to the service area. SB 1045 and HB 1410 are also in the same committees as SB 1058 and HB 0970.
Correcting Existing Problems
The EPB challenged restrictive state law in 2015; the FCC determined that the law was inconsistent with federal goals. The agency preempted both Tennessee and North Carolina's laws that inhibit municipal electric utilities from expanding. When Tennessee and North Carolina appealed the FCC decision, however, the appellate court determined that that states had the right to impose those laws on local communities and reversed the preemption.
Tennessee's current state law prevents municipal electric utilities that offer Internet access and/or video within their electric service area to expand beyond those geographical limits. These new bills propose removing the restrictions; they also contain a clause that would require expanding municipal electric utilities to obtain permission from other munis or cooperatives that already operate in the areas in which they plan to expand.
Leading The Charge Again
Bowling, a Republican from Tullahoma, has fought for several years to bring back authority to local communities. She’s a Tennessee elected official who is taking the lead on pushing smart policy that will improve connectivity in rural areas of the state. Bowling's own community owns a municipal network, LightTUBe, and Tullahoma has benefited while other rural areas have continued to suffer.
SB 0301 and its companion HB 0950, introduced by Ferrell Haile and Art Swann, respectively, allows electric cooperatives to offer high-quality Internet access, but limits them to areas where no other private providers are already operating. Terri Lynn Weaver is also signed on to HB 0950.
Local Folks Working For Local Solutions
Sustainable & Equitable Agricultural Development is a group out of Tennessee that has established a Rural Broadband Campaign. They’ve put together a list and quick summary of current relevant legislation and even established a way for constituents to easily contact Legislators to express their opinions.