Municipal broadband networks already serve more than 500 communities across the country, but some states are trying to keep that number from growing. Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide.
These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. From Alabama to Wisconsin, states have implemented everything from direct prohibitions on municipal networks to oppressive restrictions and requirements that limit competition.
The outlook for municipal connectivity may be starting to improve though, despite incorrect reports that state-level broadband preemption increased over the past year. Baller Stoke & Lide’s list of states with restrictions on municipal broadband investment actually shrunk this year from 20 states to 19 — a result of downgrading Colorado’s SB 152 from bonafide barrier to mere annoyance. Still, barriers to community networks remain in more than a third of all states, leaving millions of Americans unconnected and tens of millions more without local Internet choice.
Bans, Blocks, and Burdens
Common approaches to preempting municipal broadband networks range from straightforward bans to confusing financial restrictions and complicated legal requirements. While some states have established one main barrier to community broadband, many more have adopted a bird’s nest of regulations that kill any possibility of municipal connectivity, if only because of the legal uncertainty created by complex and vague laws.
Out of the 19 states with restrictions on municipal networks, a few explicitly ban local governments from providing communications services to their citizens. In Nevada, only municipalities with less than 25,000 people and counties with less than 55,000 people can offer telecommunications services. Both Arkansas and Tennessee bar municipalities without electric utilities from providing Internet access in most situations. Yet other states restrict where government utilities can deploy broadband or what types of services they can...Read more