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US court halts spread of fast internet in two cities

Jed Kim Aug 11, 2016
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Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler speaking at the Mobile World Congress 2015.  David Ramos/Getty Images

US court halts spread of fast internet in two cities

Jed Kim Aug 11, 2016
Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler speaking at the Mobile World Congress 2015.  David Ramos/Getty Images
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The biggest draw for Chattanooga, Tennessee may not be its relatively high employment rate or growing wages. It may be the blazing fast broadband internet residents there can get as a result of a municipally installed fiber optic network. 

The network was laid by the Electric Power Board about a decade ago when the utility was modernizing its electrical grid. That investment has allowed EPB to provide faster internet at lower prices than commercial competitors — now up to 10 gigabytes per second.

Residents of neighboring communities had expressed interest in joining the service, but state laws prohibit such expansion. The Federal Communications Commission had cleared the way for EPB to expand, but a federal appeals court on Wednesday said the agency overstepped.

The decision directly affects Chattanooga and Wilson, North Carolina, which also installed its own fiber-optic network, and it could have wider implications for municipal broadband elsewhere.

Access to high-speed internet has been touted as an inequality issue, with poorer and rural families less likely to get it. Opponents of expansion have said it’s more necessary to clear barriers for private companies to build and improve their networks.

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