Carriers and Utilities Divided Over Tennessee’s Broadband Legislation

Even after it is signed into law, the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017 is still causing strife for Tennessee lawmakers. Proponents claim it will improve access to high speed internet statewide, while opponents argue the state is billing taxpayers $45 million for something it could receive for free. The bill specifically targets the area around Chattanooga.

The Electric Power Board of Chattanooga (EPB) provides the city with the only 10 Gbps access in the county, and has lobbied to repeal state laws limiting network expansion into the surrounding areas. EPB explains it would buildout through private grants and loans, without placing further costs on taxpayers, per Motherboard. Instead, state lawmakers passed the Broadband Accessibility Act, giving authorization to Comcast and AT&T to build-out in those areas with tax money. 

The legislation is considered to be Governor Bill Haslam’s signature legislation, and is designed to make high speed internet more accessible for residents of the state. According to the Office of the Governor, the bill provides “$45 million over three years in grants and tax credits for service providers to assist in making broadband available to unserved homes and businesses.”

However, Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, disagrees with lawmakers’ assessments. Mitchell believes the bill takes taxpayer funding, and makes it available to AT&T and other major corporations, without making a demonstrable difference in coverage. Mitchell wrote in a press release from MuniNetworks.org, the bill will have little influence. He explained, “AT&T is a taxpayer subsidized monopoly in rural Tennessee that only has to provide a service far slower than the definition of broadband.” The result, Michell states, is a hollow victory which will not improve Tennessee’s internet connectivity, but will give more money to incumbent service providers.

April 19, 2017      

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