FCC Tramples on State Sovereignty


February 27, 2015 12:32PM

Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took one of the most egregious, unconstitutional steps in its 80-year existence. And I’m not talking about its endorsement of net neutrality. Rather, the FCC squeezed itself into the middle of a longstanding relationship between cities and their states. Currently, various electric utilities are dabbling in the Internet business. Among them is Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board, an agency of the city that has spent half a billion dollars in taxpayer and ratepayer money to expand its Internet services. The Electric Power Board petitioned the FCC to expand its footprint so that it could provide Internet in neighboring counties. That expansion is currently prohibited by state law, and for good reason. Government-owned Internet has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and raises serious privacy and censorship concerns. In addition, it destroys the neutral and level playing field that exists in the market. When government both umpires the game and takes a turn at bat, it’s hard to argue the game is not rigged. After failing to change state law despite numerous attempts, the Chattanooga utility took its case to Washington, asking the FCC to arbitrarily override the state. In response, the governor, attorney general, lieutenant governor, and speaker of the House all pleaded with the FCC to respect state sovereignty. The attorney general sent a letter noting that the FCC lacked the legal authority to approve the Electric Power Board’s expansion, because Chattanooga is a “political subdivision of the state,” and thus must get the state’s permission—not Washington’s—to expand its footprint. The Electric Power Board and FCC’s actions are akin to a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum, and then running to the neighbor for permission to do something his parents wouldn’t allow. Of course, just like the parents could still punish the spoiled child for his actions, so too can the state of Tennessee make the Electric Power Board put its nose in the corner. The state has the express and constitutional authority over the Electric Power Board and any other public utility, and the FCC needs to mind its own business. As Lt. Gov. Ramsey and Rep. Glen Casada warned to the FCC, “Tennessee state legislators are accountable to the voters who elect us, and the FCC would be well advised to respect state sovereignty.” Kudos to our state leaders for pushing back against a wanton FCC and a bratty utility. From the looks of it, they won’t be getting away with this one. -Justin Owen