Chattanooga Municipal Broadband Case Headed Back To Court

Attorneys for Tennessee's cable association and the Chattanooga Electric Power Board will head back to court on March 7 as part of their continuing battle over the EPB's plans to launch a municipal broadband system.

The EPB wants a Chancery Court in Nashville to reconsider its January refusal to dismiss the operators' legal challenge. The Tennessee Cable Telecommunications Association sued to block the broadband build last year, arguing that it will require impermissible cross-subsidy, among other challenges.

The EPB's counter to the TCTA lawsuit is on jurisdictional grounds: the cable association filed its suit in Davidson County, where the state comptroller is located. The comptroller is involved because that office reviewed the broadband plan for feasibility. But the city utility argues the lawsuit should be heard in Hamilton County, where the utility does business.

The city's motion for reconsideration also asks that should the judge refuse to reconsider her decision, that the utility be allowed to appeal the jurisdictional issue to the Tennessee Court of Appeals.

While the sides fight in court, the City Council in Chattanooga has directed the utility to look for up to $230 million in revenue bonds. The TCTA protested this action in a letter to the council, reminding elected officials that the whole project is subject to an ongoing lawsuit and adding that the bond amount is "materially different" from the $46 million plan presented to the state comptroller last year.

The initial lawsuit by the TCTA had entered the discovery phase when the EPB decided to appeal its jurisdictional challenge, according to Stacey Briggs, executive director of the TCTA. It is not clear whether the jurisdictional appeal will stall the original litigation, she said.