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Telecom-supported legislators keep thwarting municipal broadband

Blackburn (R-TN) has received money from a number of providers looking to eliminate broadband competition.
October 7, 2014

A few weeks ago, we wrote about the rather sad story of U.S. Congressman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). For years now, she has received tens of thousands of dollars in donations from a number of broadband providers looking to eliminate any broadband competition in areas of the state that they serve.

Blackburn has received $10K from the corporate funded National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), $12.5K from Verizon, $10K from AT&T, $7.5K from Comcast and $7K from Time Warner Cable in 2014. According to campaign finance data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, two of Blackburn’s largest career donors are employees and PACs affiliated with AT&T ($66,750) and Comcast ($36,600). Blackburn has also taken $56,000 from the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.

In return, she has introduced legislation that stops the Federal Communications Commission from helping community-owned Internet service providers compete against private companies. Considering that Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to one of the most successful municipal broadband services, it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that providers would want to kill off any other cities from trying to get 1 Gbps speeds for $70 per month.


Now, Blackburn has taken to the Tennessean newspaper and penned an Op-Ed where she simply takes PR talking points and tries to pass it off as some sort of reason for supporting her legislation.

In it, she uses the typical bogeyman arguments. She claims the government is trying to tell Tennessee how to run their state. How dare they! You see, only people like Blackburn can tell the state how to be run. She wants the government to stay out of her state while she (part of the terrible government) tries putting into place her own rules which do nothing other than eliminate parts of the state from competitive broadband.

Here is an idea: If you want the government to stay out of your business, stop allowing businesses to bribe politicians which in turn gets state/local governments to put in place rules that only help a select few, rather than the public. You can’t hate government involvement yet want that same government involvement to help your side thanks to a few thousand dollars in donations.

She also claims that state governments listen and respond to the voices of constituents. Therefore, the FCC should stay out of their business. Isn’t this all happening because cities are voting unanimously to approve such municipal broadband projects? Or are we just ignoring city officials and federal officials while accepting state officials statements. Follow that logic?

The FCC is simply allowing cities to decide for themselves. They aren’t forcing any sort of government project on everyone. The states are in fact deciding for EVERYONE what they can or can’t do under Blackburn’s legislation.

She then brings up the Utah municipal broadband project named UTOPIA. UTOPIA has been a huge disappointment due to managerial incompetence. I don’t think anyone would argue with that notion. What Blackburn doesn’t mention is that part of the reason for UTOPIA flailing is due to the huge legal bills put on the project from the start due to constant attacks from local incumbent ISP’s like Qwest (now CenturyLink) through a group that they funded called the Utah Taxpayer’s Association.

As Karl Bode notes, that part of the narrative somehow seems to get forgotten, right alongside a mention of the large number of successful community broadband projects that haven’t had problems whatsoever.

It’s amusing how federal government trying to thwart awful, protectionist state laws is sheer devilry, but a corporation literally writing and buying laws that trample state citizens’ and local governments rights is perfectly acceptable. As often noted, these towns and cities wouldn’t be trying to get into the broadband business if there wasn’t a failure in the private sector, courtesy of regulatory capture. Focus on corruption, fix those failures, support smart, balanced policy that promotes competition, and there’s no need for communities to go it alone. – DSLReports

As stated above, there is a reason that so many cities are now wanting to build their own municipal fiber networks. They either are being severely under-served or are not being served at all. Cities with a number of broadband providers that are serving the entire city are not trying to bring in their own municipal service. The failure of the private sector is why cities (even heavy anti-government cities) are desperate enough to build their own networks.


It must be purely coincidence that residents in Chattanooga have broadband options with AT&T U-Verse and Comcast and can receive speeds eight-to-ten times faster (at a significantly CHEAPER price) than those in Knoxville, Tennessee.

I agree with Blackburn’s larger point. I am a registered Republican who prefers that the government stay out of my life. I also can’t stand when people like Marsha Blackburn use the anti-government slogan and follow it up with new laws (by the government) which help groups that donated to her campaign. You either want the government out, or you don’t. Pick one, Marsha.