ALEC-based restrictions on city-run Internet at risk after FCC ruling

Author: Allan Holmes
Coverage Type: reporting
Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC, 20554, United States

States that restrict municipalities from offering Internet service to residents could see their laws overturned if they based the bills on a model offered by a conservative legislative group. Many of the provisions in the model legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) were incorporated into a North Carolina law that was knocked down by the Federal Communications Commission in February. ALEC, a self-described free-market think tank made up of mostly Republican state lawmakers and funded by corporations and trade groups, created a model municipal broadband law in 2002 that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for cities to build their own networks. The goal of the legislation is to keep cities from what the group views as unfairly competing with large Internet providers such as Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T. All four companies have donated to ALEC and some executives have served in leadership positions on committees and boards.

About 20 states have passed laws that either outright ban cities from building networks or places requirements that make it almost financially impossible to develop one. Many of the laws have provisions that are similar to ALEC’s model bill. Now they risk the same fate as North Carolina. In February, the FCC voted to preempt that state’s law and another in Tennessee that restrict cities from building or expanding broadband networks. The Tennessee attorney general is suing the FCC to overturn the decision. By citing those six provisions, the FCC has by extension struck down much of ALEC’s model law, said Jim Baller, an attorney who represented Chattanooga (TN) and Wilson (NC) when they asked the FCC to preempt their states’ broadband laws. “Because the North Carolina law uses similar language to that found in the ALEC model legislation, it would seem to follow that any other state that has relied heavily on the ALEC model has also effectively banned municipal broadband investments,” Baller said. ALEC has cited the North Carolina law as a good prototype for other states.


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