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80 | BROADBAND COMMUNITIES | www.broadbandcommunities.com | MAY/JUNE 2015 BROADBAND POLICY Navigating State Restrictions On Public Broadband Some state laws are more onerous than they appear to be. Others aren't nearly as restrictive as they seem. Welcome to the confusing world of municipal broadband. By Craig Settles / Gigabit Nation T hough much can still happen in the remainder of 2015, many consumers and businesses are already cheering the FCC's recent actions to advance the cause of broadband. What caused the most champagne corks to pop was the FCC's preempting Tennessee and North Carolina laws that prevented successful municipal broadband systems from expanding to serve nearby towns. Tis is the frst time since incumbents began campaigning against municipal networks that the federal government has taken forceful regulatory action on behalf of those networks. Tough quite a few industry watchers see this as a net-positive development, there are numerous hurdles ahead. "On one hand, the ruling just applies to Chattanooga and Wilson," observes Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge. "Each of the other cities in the various states with restrictions will have to fle separate sets of documents and get additional rulings. "On the other hand, there are a number of actions that communities can take, bolstered by the success of those two cities. Some communities may feel that they can mount winning eforts in their state legislatures to get their restrictions curtailed or eliminated. At the very least, in some states, we should see a fair amount of political momentum building that encourages new policies favoring community networks." For now, legislative restrictions on publicly owned broadband in 21 states are barriers to the goal of faster, better broadband – and there is always the danger of barriers being introduced into other states. Tese laws, in many cases, negatively afect the ability of communities to pick the best solutions to meet their broadband needs, shortchanging local economic development opportunities. Tey present three types of barriers: mandated procedures that require varying levels of efort to navigate, litigation minefelds and total bans. Dissecting these obstacles with a critical eye, however, can uncover avenues to mitigating or removing some of them. Even some total bans leave public entities with options for moving forward. Te reverse is also true: In some states, removing these laws may not open the gates to community networks to the extent people expect. Almost all cities that own broadband networks started by making numerous, mostly fruitless, appeals to incumbent telecom and cable companies to improve their broadband infrastructure. Frustrated by repeated rejections, community leaders did – and continue to do – what their predecessors did when private electric companies in the 1930s refused to bring electricity to areas beyond the biggest cities: Tey built what they needed themselves. Local governments or public utilities now provide broadband services to some 400 U.S. communities. Tese networks are owned solely