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SB 304 2014
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GovTech Reports on Broadband Legislation in Five States
Broadband is a topic of interest in several state legislative chambers this session. In a recent Government Technology article, Brian Heaton focused on five states where community broadband is particularly contentious. In some cases, legislators want to expand opportunities while others seek to limit local authority.
We introduced you to the Kansas anti-competition bill in January. The bill was pulled back this year but could be back next year. When the business community learned about the potential effects of SB 304, they expressed their dismay. From the article:
Eleven companies and trade organizations – including Google – signed a letter opposing SB 304 as a “job-killer” that restricts communications services expansion in the U.S.
Minnesota's leaders introduced legislation to expand broadband. Efforts include financial investment earmarked for infrastructure:
Senate File 2056 – referred to as the Border-to-Border Infrastructure Program – would take $100 million from the state's general fund to be applied to broadband projects. A companion bill in the House, HF 2615 was also introduced.
As we reported, there is bipartisan support for the bill in the House, but the Senate and Governor have not prioritized SF 2056.
New Hampshire's legislature wants to open up bonding authority for local communities that need help:
KKFI in Kansas City Interview Mitchell and Todd O'Boyle on Kansas Legislation
On February 13, KKFI Community Radio from Kansas City, Missouri, interviewed ILSR's Chris Mitchell and Todd O'Boyle from Common Cause. Tom Klammer, host of the "Tell Somebody" show covered Kansas legislation SB 304 aimed at preventing municipalities from investing in their own broadband networks.
Klammer writes on the program website:
Recently Todd O’Boyle of Common Cause brought my attention to a Kansas Senate bill, authored by a cable industry lobbyist, which would outlaw community broadband in Kansas. Subsequently I came across an article online written by O’Boyle’s colleague Christopher Mitchell who wrote that the bill in question, if passed, would create some of the most draconian limits on building networks that we have seen in any state.
You can listen to the interview from the program website. The interview is a little under one hour.
Kansas Community Benefits from Community Owned Networks
Even though the Kansas cable lobby have temporarily retracted their competition-killing telecom bill, we still want to highlight the benefits of preserving full home rule, local authority by focusing on a number of communities, including Chanute, Ottawa, and Erie.
We have reported on Chanute's municipal network for years. The community leveraged its electric utility assets and incrementally built an extensive publicly owned gigabit fiber network. Over several decades, the community expanded its network to serve schools, libraries, local government, and businesses. Chanute took advantage of every opportunity and created a valuable asset with no borrowing or bonding.
Several business, including Spirit AeroSystems, chose to locate in Chanute because of its incredible fiber network. Spirit brought approximately 150 new jobs. The network also retained jobs when incumbents refused to provide needed upgrades to local businesses. Rather than leave town, the businesses connected to the City's network and increased their productivity.
Former City Manager J.D. Lester referred to municipal broadband as “the great equalizer for Rural America,” saying: “You don’t have to live in Kansas City to work there.” (See our case study Chanute's Gig: One Rural Kansas Community's Tradition of Innovation Led to A Gigabit and Ubiquitous Wireless Coverage [PDF])
Kids in Chanute have access to connectivity other schools can only dream about. The local community college has expanded its distance learning program with higher capacity broadband. Free Wi-Fi hotspots are all over town; money otherwise sent to distant providers stays in the community. Chanute has invested in a WiMAX wireless system that serves public safety all over the region, not only in town. Their other utilities use the network for automatic metering and SCADA applications, saving energy and allowing customers the chance to reduce utility bills.
Kansas Anti-Competition Bill Authored by Cable Lobbyists
That's a lobby group with members such as Comcast, Cox, Eagle Communications, and Time Warner Cable. The bill was introduced this week, referred to the Committee on Commerce, and scheduled for discussion for Tuesday of next week.That hearing will now be delayed as the cable lobbyists strategize on a bill that less transparently serves only their interests. As usual, we see the cable lobbyists claiming that municipal networks use taxpayer dollars, despite the reality that most do not. Much of what I see in Kansas points to Time Warner Cable being behind this - a lame attempt to stop Google Fiber using lobbying power rather than innovating and investing. However, the bill has tremendously negative implications for rural Kansas because local governments are often the only entities that care if their communities have the Internet access they need in the modern economy. It stretches credulity to think Kansas would pass a bill that would prevent Google from expanding its network in the region.
Businesses Mount Opposition to Anti-Competition Cable Bill in Kansas
In a very quick turnaround, a number of prominent companies have signed on to a letter opposing the Kansas bill to block competition for existing Internet providers, like Time Warner Cable. Firms signing the letter sent to the Commerce Committee include Alcatel-Lucent, American Public Power Association, Atlantic Engineering Group, Calix, CTC Technology & Energy, Fiber to the Home Council, Google, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, OnTrac, Telecommunications Industry Association, Utilities Telecom Council. The Committee will hear the bill on Tuesday morning. We understand that no recording or live streaming is planned.
Update: When originally posting this, I failed to credit Jim Baller - who organized the letter and works to preserve local authority, so communities themselves can decide whether a network is a wise investment.
Early Reactions to Anti-Competition Broadband Bill in Kansas
The city opposes the bill because it’s legislation that allows lawmakers in Topeka to define what local communities can or cannot do. “It’s about home rule, local choice,” Chanute Utilities Director Larry Gates said. “It’s not about what happens in Topeka.”And a local business weighed in, noting that the City service is essential because the private providers have refused to upgrade and offer modern services:
Phil Jarred of Jarred Gilmore & Phillips PA said the two private companies providing internet services, CableOne and AT&T cannot meet the needs his business requires. “Both services are not fast enough,” Jarred said. “It costs us too much not to have the fiber optics.”Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOm noted that it curiously bans both municipal networks and the types of partnerships that Google and Kansas City formed, finishing with "it looks like incumbent providers are fighting back with politics." This is nothing new of course - companies have sought for years to protect their businesses with laws limiting the competition rather than investing or being innovative. But when it comes to an essential infrastructure, we should be particularly careful.
Kansas Legislature Introduces Bill to Limit Internet Investment
encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates; and ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory federal, state and local government framework.Yet the bill does nothing but discourage investment, with no explanation of how prohibiting some approaches will lead to more investment or better services. It does not enable any new business models, rather it outlaws one possible source of competition for existing providers. The bill contains what will appear to the untrained eye to be an exemption for unserved areas. However, the language is hollow and will have no effect in protecting those who have no access from the impact of this bill. The first problem is the definition of unserved. A proper definition of unserved would involve whether the identified area has access to a connection meeting the FCC's minimum broadband definition delivered by DSL, cable, fiber-optic, fixed wireless or the like. These technologies are all capable of delivering such access. However the bill also includes mobile wireless and, incredibly, satellite access. As we have noted on many occasions, the technical limits of satellite technology render it unfit to be called broadband, even if it can deliver a specific amount of Mbps. Satellite just does not allow the rapid two-way transmitting of information common to modern Internet applications.