February 23, 2005

Summary: February 23 Hearing

HB 789 testimony continued today, with several speakers presenting views critical of Section 54.202 of the bill, the section that would prohibit municipalities from offering network services.

Home networking visionary Wayne Caswell and Austin Wireless President Richard MacKinnon both argued that the prohibition could have a negative impact on broadband innovation and development across the state, especially in areas where telecommunications companies don't offer advanced broadband services, and are unlikely to offer them in the foreseeable future. Committee Chairman Phil King argued that cities shouldn't compete with private companies that offer telecommunications services, and expressed a concern that a line should be drawn between what's appropriate and what's inappropriate for cities to offer. Appropriate services might include network access in libraries, schools, and city buildings.

However the day's final speaker, Steve Lowe from Tropos Networks, suggested that cities should be allowed to do more; in fact many cities have already committed funds to infrastructure development for projects that would offer various network services to citizens. He argued that city offerings would create an even more competitive environment ensuring availability of services and supporting economic development and innovation throughout the state.

The committee seemed receptive, and at the end of the day, Rep. King acknowledged that "the cat may already be out of the bag," that 54.202 should probably be removed because too many municipal network projects are already under way, based on facts included in Lowe's presentation. This sounded promising, however we shouldn't assume that the issue is resolved. Testimony will continue tomorrow.

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