U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis cheered a loss for North Carolina consumers last week after a federal appeals court upheld a cable company protection law that he supported as state House speaker in 2011.
The law created standards for towns to follow if they wanted to establish broadband service in competition with the commercial enterprises such as Time-Warner. But the “standards” were designed mainly to make it virtually impossible for municipalities to offer broadband: They couldn’t price the service at less than it cost to provide it and couldn’t use funds from other sources to subsidize broadband operations.
The law was directed at limiting the spread of high-speed broadband systems like the one established by the city of Wilson. The Wilson system treats access to broadband as a utility and offers high-speed, wireless internet access for free throughout its downtown. The municipal service is cheaper and faster than cable competitors, yet covers its own cost.
Naturally, neighboring areas wanted to get on Wilson’s system and other towns wanted to set up their own. North Carolina’s 2011 law essentailly blocked that expansion, but the FCC overruled such laws as interfering with a federal policy of promoting greater access to broadband.
Now the FCC order has been tossed by the courts, having been tenaciously fought by the big companies that like having their say over consumers with few options. The federal appeals court agreed that the limits state law place on municipal broadband operations are “onerous,” but said the FCC couldn’t override state law.
Which brings up Tillis’ insult. He said, “Today’s ruling affirms the fact that unelected bureaucrats at the FCC completely overstepped their authority by attempting to deny states like North Carolina from setting their own laws to protect hard-working taxpayers and maintain the fairness of the free market.”
Translation: Time Warner and other companies, thank goodness, will retain control of the market without having to worry about towns competing with them and thus will be able to charge people whatever the market will bear.
For Tillis to say the court ruling, which should be appealed, is a triumph for taxpayers is preposterous. It’s a setback. The “free market” he backs is one free of competition from municipal broadband services that offer a better product at a lower price.