Lafayette, La. to join FCC's anti-municipal broadband fight

Lafayette, La., the operator of the LUS Fiber municipal broadband network, is the next city considering a move to petition the FCC to overturn anti-municipal broadband laws.

LUS Fiber is hardly a novice in the municipal broadband game.

Frustrated by a lack of services from large operators like incumbent BellSouth, now AT&T (NYSE: T), Lafayette's residents in 2005 voted in favor of investing $125 million in city funds to build an FTTH network, dubbed LUS Fiber, stretching approximately 800 route miles.

Like fellow municipal provider EPB in Chattanooga, Tenn., LUS would like to extend service into nearby towns in Lafayette Parish. However, Louisiana is one of 19 states that have laws on the books that make it challenging for communities to either build or expand municipal broadband projects.

Lafayette Mayor Joey Durel told Politico that if local telecom and cable service providers like AT&T and Cox Communications protest its plans it will ask the FCC to help them.

"I would say if we run into issues where the incumbents take advantage of the Louisiana law to try to throw up roadblocks, I could definitely foresee us going to the FCC considering the mood they're in right now," Durel said.

The FCC is set to vote on the municipal broadband issue, including petitions filed by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., during its monthly meeting on Feb. 26. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last May made a call to challenge more than 20 state laws that prevent or discourage municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

The FCC's move to vote about the municipal broadband issue comes on the heels of a letter that President Obama sent to the FCC to repeal the 20 state laws on the books that either outright ban building broadband networks or limit a community's move to build its own alternative network.

Efforts to overturn these laws have been met with opposition from three states and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC), which argue the FCC has no authority to overturn anti-municipal broadband laws.

But the municipal broadband issue has also been a divisive issue within the FCC. While Wheeler supports the municipal broadband concept, Republican commissioners Michael O'Rielly and Ajit Pai said the regulator has no authority to pre-empt state laws governing such projects.

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