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Municipal broadband networks have been gaining traction across the country. It's easy to see why: In many rural and low-income communities, privately offered broadband services are nonexistent. In its 2012 Broadband Progress Report the Federal Communications Commission counted nearly 20 million Americans (the vast majority living in rural areas) beyond the reach of broadband.
The Free Press' Timothy Karr's words are supported by the growing number of pins on our Community Network Map. We connect with places nearly every day where municipal networks fill the cavernous gaps left by the massive corporations. Large cable and telecom providers do not hide their aversion to servicing rural areas, yet year after year their lobbying dollars persuade state politicians to introduce bills to stop the development of municipal networks. Karr reviewed recent efforts to use state laws to stifle community owned networks in a Huffington Post article.
As readers will recall, this year's front lines were in Atlanta, where HB 282 failed. We hope that loss may indicate a turning point in advancing municipal network barriers because the bill lost on a 94-70 vote with bipartisan opposition. If it had succeeded, Georgia would have been number 20 on a list of states that, thanks to ALEC and big corporate sponsors like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, have decided to leave their citizenry begging for the private market to come their way.
The SCCTA has been actively following the AT&T-backed legislation that would amend the Government-Owned Telecommunications Service Providers Act. House Bill 3508 would impose the same requirements on government-owned broadband operations that are currently imposed on telecommunications operations.Of course, H.3508 goes far beyond applying the "same requirements." It enacts a host of requirements that only apply to public providers, which are already disadvantaged by being much smaller than companies like Time Warner Cable and AT&T. We have long ago debunked the myth of public sector advantages over the private sector. The second quarter newsletter [pdf] identifies this bill as the highest priority of the cable association:
H3508, the AT&T backed legislation, has been our dominate piece of legislation in 2011.
"The private sector is handling this exceptionally well," Rogers said. "What they don't need is for a governmental entity to come in and compete with them where these types of services already exist.
“This information gives us a more complete picture of the vast lobbying and advertising resources AT&T has dedicated to trying to ram through this takeover,” said Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge. “It is even more impressive that while many members of Congress have ignored the facts and are backing this takeover, the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission have not. It is clear that the data the DoJ and FCC have compiled on this deal will negate all of the money AT&T has spent to mislead policymakers and the public.”
"This is by far the greatest assault we've ever felt from the University of Wisconsin Extension," said Mark Weller, president and CEO of Access Wisconsin, which represents 30 mostly small, rural telecommunications providers.
On June 1, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation held an oxford-style debate over the proposition: "Governments should neither subsidize nor operate broadband networks to compete with commercial ones."
Jim Baller and I spoke against the proposition while Rob Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach defended it during the 2 hour, 15 minute session. I was unable to be in DC and thus participated by the magic of modern telecommunications.
This is a long but valuable and unique discussion. We left talking points behind, actually responded to the points raised by the other side, and presented both sides of this debate in a reasonable manner. In short, this is exactly the kind of discussion we would elected officials to consider before legislating on the matter. But it very rarely happens -- nothing even remotely close to it occured in North Carolina when Time Warner Cable pushed its bill through the Legislature to enact a de facto ban on muni networks in the state.
You can watch it here.
Sign up for a live webcast (or if you are in DC, please attend) of Jim Baller and Christopher Mitchell engaging in an Oxford-style debate on the subject of community broadband with Rob D. Atkinson and Jeff Eisenach on June 1 at 9:00 EDT.
The statement to be debated is: "Governments Should Neither Subsidize nor Operate Broadband Networks to Compete with Commercial Ones." Guess which side Jim and I will take?