The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced on August 29 that it will not be appealing its loss in the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Tennessee v. FCC. The August 10 decision held that FCC lacked the authority under Telecommunications Act § 706 to preempt state limits on municipalities’ offering of broadband services. Washington Legal Foundation supported the Petitioners in the case with an amicus brief on which we represented former FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth.
FCC argued that § 706 granted the Commission broad public-interest authority to dictate how states regulated the activities of their own local towns and cities. Tennessee and North Carolina both permit municipalities to offer government-owned broadband services, but they limit the offering of those services to the municipalities’ geographical borders. The Commission acknowledged it could not prohibit states from banning municipal broadband, but asserted that once states allowed such services, § 706 empowered FCC to preempt state policies that stood “as a barrier to infrastructure investment and broadband deployment.”
As former Commissioner Furchtgott-Roth and his Hudson Institute colleague Arielle Roth explained in an August 18 WLF Legal Pulse post, “The Sixth Circuit correctly rejected FCC’s basis for preempting the North Carolina and Tennessee statutes, stating that nowhere in § 706 did Congress indicate an intent to preempt internal state laws governing broadband deployment.”
The extent of FCC’s overreach was made manifest last November when the Department of Justice declined to sign FCC’s Sixth Circuit brief. Experts noted at the time that DOJ’s absence conveyed a not-so-subtle message to the Sixth Circuit. The Sixth Circuit sent an even clearer message to FCC with its August 10 decision, one that the Commission finally appears to have received.