March 08, 2005
HB 789 Revised, Still Ugly
Mar 23 update: The language described here was pulled to get the legislation out of committee and onto the House floor. At this time, we are anticipating similar language to be introduced on the floor as an amendment. Please monitor our home page for latest developments.
Yesterday, a revised version of HB 789 was released. The section that outlaws community Internet (72KB PDF) has been changed, largely in response to objections like ours. The changes camouflage around the prohibitions, without addressing the real problem.
One change actually broadens the ban to cover even more services. The original ban primarily protected the large phone companies. The revision extends further protections to the large cable providers.
The bill adds some small exceptions. New provisions will allow free public hotspots under limited circumstances. The change would allow the city to light up a library, but not a downtown block.
Exceptions are added for a number of obvious services, such as permitting e-government services and allowing libraries to charge out-of-area visitors to use their facilities. The presence of these ridiculous exceptions validates our claim that the ban is harmful and overly broad. It also illustrates the folly of this approach. The bill fails to exempt on-line library catalogs, for instance, so presumably the Austin Public Library would need to shut down that service.
The changes open up just one provision for community Internet. Municipalities will be allowed to setup networks to support "economic development activities" providing that specific legislation authorizes the project.
We expect the committee will hold a hearing on this new language in the next few days. It is important that we all contact them before then and let them know we want the community Internet ban removed completely.Posted by chip at March 8, 2005 09:39 PM