NC Attorney General Files Lawsuit Against FCC For Sticking Its Nose In State’s Municipal Internet Fight

It looks as though North Carolina’s municipal Internet fight is about to get a bit nastier. North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper has “gone to the mattresses” in order to stop the FCC from exerting its power over state affairs.

But before we get into this latest development, we need a bit of a backgrounder.  The towns of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina were at a time home to underdeveloped and poor-performing Internet solutions from companies like Comcast and Time Warner Cable. When neither ISP expressed any willingness to offer customers faster Internet speeds, both towns took action to build their own respective fiber networks. Citizens benefited from well-priced gigabit Internet services (and TV service) and naturally, Comcast and Time Warner Cable complained to the Tennessee and North Carolina state legislatures to have the networks shut down.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

However, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was having none of this nonsense, and in early March the FCC granted petitions from the towns of Chattanooga and Wilson to sidestep state laws in order to expand their fiber networks. In his March 12 ruling, Wheeler wrote (PDF):

The issue is simple: these communities want to determine their own path. Their elected local officials want to be able to take action to meet their communities’ needs for high-speed broadband. But the laws at issue today raise barriers to the deployment of and investment in new broadband networks and infrastructure. That is why I support granting these petitions. Communities across the nation, including these two petitioners, understand that access to fast, fair, and open broadband networks is key to their economic future – and the future of their citizens.

With that said, the Republican-controlled NC senate and house aren’t too thrilled with any intervention in state affairs, so the legislature called on Cooper to file a lawsuit against the FCC… and he obliged. Cooper wrote in the lawsuit that the FCC “[preempted] North Carolina 's statutory law and provisions [that govern] municipal provisioning and operation of broadband communications services” and that the it “unlawfully inserted itself between the State and the State's political subdivisions.”

Cooper went on to add that North Carolina “is aggrieved and seeks relief,” and that the state “respectfully requests that this Court hold unlawful, vacate, enjoin, and set aside the [FCC] Order, and provide such additional relief as may be appropriate."

NC Attorney General Roy Cooper (Source: YouTube)

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance is brushing off the lawsuit and is throwing its full support behind the town of Wilson. "Attorney General Cooper must not realize the irony of using state taxpayer dollars to ensure less money is invested in rural broadband, but we certainly do,” said the institute’s Director of Community Broadband Networks, Christopher Mitchell.

"Rural areas in North Carolina already suffer from some of the slowest speeds in the nation because the big telecom giants see no financial reason to connect them. The FCC ruling will help communities that will never be covered by these corporations to finally have Internet access beyond dial-up service."


Just for reference, the faster Internet tier that Time Warner Cable offers to residential customers in Wilson, North Carolina is 50Mbps/5Mbps (down/up) and costs $64.99 per month (promotional pricing; it jumps to $69.99 per month after the first year). Greenlight, Wilson’s municipal Internet service, offers symmetrical 40Mbps, 75Mbps, 100Mbps, and 1Gbps packages for $34.95, $54.95, $74.95, and $99.95 per month respectively. And you wonder why Wilson decided to go it alone…