HB 2108 Revised Passes Through Committee, Up For Vote In House Today

Republican Delegates in the Virginia House Labor and Commerce Committee advanced HB 2108 yesterday, despite opposition from constituents, local leaders, and members of the telecommunications industry. A revised version of Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill now heads to the House Floor today for a vote from the entire body.

A bill titled the “Virginia Broadband Deployment Act” by its sponsor now contains nothing about “deployment” but retains provisions forcing publicly owned networks to reveal proprietary information that limit competition. In the hearing yesterday, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA) testified that this bill is overkill:

In front of the committee, Smith argued the Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.

Under this bill, the broadband authority could have been forced to reveal information about Meridium — that GE Digital was planning to purchase the Roanoke-based company for $495 million, Smith said.

“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”

The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.

Our Christopher Mitchell noted that the attempt to force publicly owned networks into a state of "ultra-transparency" was also a thinly veiled attempt to ward off competition from potential public-private partnerships:

The opening of potentially proprietary information under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act regarding pricing, rates, and fees is something the private sector does not have to deal with and would strenuously object to. This is particularly harmful to potential public-private partnerships where I fear an incumbent would seek to punish the partner of a rival by constantly seeking information, if only to harass the partnership. 

Roanoke Valley Getting Connected

Award-wining RVBA serves community anchor institutions, government facilities, local businesses, and other entities with its open access fiber-optic network. They also lease dark fiber and provide other services. The Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association (VCTA), one of the strong proponents of the bill and a generous Byron campaign contributor, has targeted the RVBA network in the past. This time they have a Delegate in their arsenal.

The RVBA began as a joint project between several local counties and cities. After some initial struggles and a number of challenges (most of them political) the network official lit up in April 2016. The region, suffering from poor connectivity from incumbents and sluggish economic development, needed a shot in the arm. Local nonprofits and governments are saving public dollars and getting better capacity with the RVBA.

As can be expected, incumbents represented by lobbyists from the VCTA are not happy that the RVBA and municipal networks like the ones in Danville, Martinsville, or Nelson County are operating and doing it well. When they offer fast, affordable, reliable connectivity, it makes slow, expensive DSL look bad. Cable investment in sparsely populated areas would not yield the profits they require. People and businesses in rural areas who are not served by AT&T, Comcast, or any of the other contributors to Byron’s campaign wonder why they have to pay high fees for expensive satellite or mobile wireless that imposes data caps, if they can get a signal.

Enter Del. Kathy Byron, Chair of the Virginia Broadband Advisory Council, Vice-Chair of the Commerce and Labor Committee, sponsor of the “Broadband Deployment Act” that doesn’t address “deployment.”

The bill will be up for a vote today in the General Assembly.

If you want to call your Delegate and express your thoughts on the bill, a list of contact information for all House members is on the Virginia General Assembly website.