Georgia’s electric cooperatives filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to block a local phone exchange’s ability to provide service to the country’s biggest telecommunications companies, saying the companies are violating the state’s open internet rules.
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta, the first time the plaintiffs have gone to court to challenge Georgia’s net neutrality rules, which require broadband providers to treat all online traffic equally.
The lawsuit comes just days after President Donald Trump issued an executive order that would roll back the Obama administration’s rules, arguing that the internet should be a public utility and not controlled by the federal government.
“The utility of the internet is an equalizer,” said co-plaintiff Rachel Hurd, one of the lawyers for the electric cooperades, in a statement.
“We hope that this lawsuit will set a precedent that will protect the internet for future generations.”
The lawsuit argues that Comcast and Verizon Wireless are using their ownership stakes in the telephone exchange, known as the Chattahoochee Valley Cooperative Exchange, to acquire and block local access to the Chattanooga, Tennessee-based Cox Communications.
The utility companies also claim that the Chattanooga-based AT&T Wireless is blocking Chattanooga from having its own wireless network.
The suit says the co-owners of the Chattanooga telephone exchange are trying to force the exchange to purchase an unlimited data plan and a high-speed broadband network for their own use, and to use a local-level, toll-free number to make calls to Cox.
The co-optation of the Chattahochee exchange by AT&Ts is also being done through an agreement known as a “cooperative agreement,” which allows Cox to share in the cost of any telecommunications company’s services.
The Chattanooga exchange is one of four in Georgia that were set up to facilitate telecoms investments in the region, and is the largest in the state.
The utility co-ops argue that AT&ts’ proposed merger of its AT&S and Comcast operations would cause significant economic harm to Chattanooga, which would likely lead to a decline in business.
The suit says AT&t would then use the Chattachica exchange’s existing network to deliver more expensive wireless services.
“Cox’s proposed merger would result in substantial economic harm that would harm the Chattanooga area’s ability as a broadband-first and mobile-first city, and would ultimately cause harm to Chattahooues economy,” the suit states.
“AT&ts would have the opportunity to create a wireless network that is a competitive competitor to Chattanooga’s current wireless network and create an additional $3 billion in additional revenue by using this additional revenue to fund its expansion of the AT&s network in Chattanooga.”