Governor Haslam may appeal FCC ruling that allows EPB to expand gig

Governor Haslam may appeal FCC ruling that allows EPB to expand gig

March 3rd, 2015 by Andy Sher in Politics State

FILE - In this Feb. 9, 2015 file photo, Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his annual State of the State address to the Tennessee Legislature in Nashville, Tenn. Years of Republican attacks on President Barack Obama’s health care law may have paid dividends at the ballot box, but they also made it much harder for GOP governors to make the case that expanding Medicaid in their states is a good idea. Haslam corralled the broad support of business groups and the state's powerful health care industry for his plan to cover 280,000 low-income residents. He ended up losing out to a steady drumbeat of anti-Obama rhetoric and threats of primary challenges to Republican lawmakers who considered going along. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)


Photo by The Associated Press/Times Free Press.



NASHVILLE -- Republican Gov. Bill Haslam today said he will explore whether to appeal last week's Federal Communications Commission's decision allowing Chattanooga's EPB to offer lightning-speed Internet broadband beyond the municipal power distributor's service area. 

"We're going to have that conversation," Haslam told reporters this morning following an address to businessmen and businesswomen at Lipscomb University. 

He said state officials must "make sure there's a reasonable reason to do that."

A spokesman for Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, who has called a news conference for later this afternoon, said the lawmakers "see this ruling as a clear example of federal overreach -- something that will certainly have an impact on state sovereignty."

Stymied for years by their legislatures on expansion, Chattanooga's EPB and a Wilson, N.C.-owned utility pressed the issue with federal regulators and won.

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery and Haslam were among state officials who wrote the FCC to urge commissioners not to intervene.

Haslam spokesman David Smith said in an email statement to the Times Free Press on Monday that the governor "continues to believe that encouraging investment in broadband is the right thing to do and that those decisions are best made at the state level."

Asked whether the state intended to appeal the FCC's ruling, Smith referred a reporter's question to Slatery.

Slatery spokeswoman Leigh Ann Jones said in a statement that "we have not made a decision about the state's next step.  As we pointed out in our Feb. 5, 2015 letter to the Commission, even with purported authorization from the FCC, a local governmental power board would still need state legislative authority to expand its service area."

She said "we are disappointed the FCC would assert authority over a local governmental body, which is an area of responsibility resting exclusively with the state in which the local governmental body exists." 

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, who supports the FCC decision, said in an interview Monday that " the only state action we want to see is removal of all the state's laws that prohibit EPB from expanding their footprint."

Noting that nearby officials in Marion and Bradley counties want access to EPB's gigabit service, Berke said, "We know this is something people want in Tennessee and can help improve our regional economy."