Internet Association backs FCC in state preemption battle

A group of major technology companies is putting its weight behind the federal government's decision to preempt a pair of state laws that blocked the expansion of city-run Internet service. 

The Internet Association, which represents companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Yahoo and others, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of the Federal Communications Commission's decision this year to override two state laws.

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"Access to the Internet is today the modern equivalent to access to railroads, electricity, highways, and telephony in previous eras," the trade group's lawyers wrote in the brief. 

"And just as the federal government recognized and executed its role in encouraging, promoting, and facilitating universal access to those services, the federal government today similarly recognizes its role in promoting and facilitating access to broadband services," the brief added. 

The edge providers represented by the trade group have a stake in seeing more competition and faster Internet speeds. Google has also begun building out fiber Internet service in a number of cities. 

Sen. Ed MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyDems blast EPA nominee at confirmation hearing Overnight Energy: Watchdog investigating EPA enforcement numbers | EPA's Wheeler faces Senate grilling | Interior's offshore drilling staff returning to work during shutdown EPA's Wheeler faces grilling over rule rollbacks MORE (D-Mass.) filed a brief in support as well, as did Common Cause, New America, Public Knowledge, the League of Municipalities and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers. 

In February, the Federal Communications Commission voted to nullify laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that, in part, prevented Internet services run by local municipalities from expanding beyond their borders. 

The action came at the request of two towns — Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C. — and was framed by supporters as critical to promoting competition. 

The trade group told the court that reversing the decision would be a move back "toward retrenchment."

President Obama had specifically called for the action ahead of his State of the Union address, accusing incumbent Internet service providers of doing everything they can to keep out competition. 

Both states sued over the FCC ruling, saying the agency unlawfully inserted itself into a state issue. Republicans on the FCC have also opposed the ruling, saying the agency lacks the authority.

The brief Thursday argued the agency was well within its powers. The trade group pointed to Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which tasks the FCC to encourage the deployment of telecom services and to remove barriers from infrastructure investment.