Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Victory for Virginia Cities in Effort to Provide Telecom Services

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Victory for Virginia Cities in Effort to Provide Telecom Services

Article excerpt

A federal judge ruled last month that a Virginia statute cannot preempt cities and other local governments from providing telecommunications services.

This opinion is contrary to rulings from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the U.S. Court of Appeals, which both held that the 1996 Telecommunications Act allowed states to bar cities from providing telecommunication services.

Striking down a 1999 Virginia law, District Court Judge James P. Jones said the FCC wrongly declined to grant cities the protections for municipal telecommunication service providers. Section 253(a) of the Act says state and local governments cannot "prohibit or have the effect of prohibiting the ability of any entity to provide any interstate or intrastate telecommunications service."

Judge Jones' opinion in Bristol, Va., v. Mark Earley et al. states, "It strains logic to interpret the term `any entity' in section 253(a) to mean `any entity except for municipalities and other political subdivisions of states.' While it is true that such an interpretation is possible, the Supreme Court has cautioned that a statute can be unambiguous without addressing every interpretive theory offered by a party."

The phrase "any entity" is "broad and unambiguous" language that plainly includes cities such as Bristol, Jones wrote, and federal law trumps state law under the U.S. Constitution.

Jones, in his ruling, said he did not consider the impact on competition when deciding the case in Bristol's favor: "The issue is not whether allowing local government to compete with commercial providers is good public policy or not. That decision has been made by Congress, and under ... the Constitution, its decision trumps conflicting state law."

The FCC in 1997 upheld a Texas law that forbade cities from providing telecom services. …

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