March 23, 2005

Texas House Votes to Limit Muni Wireless

Today, the Texas House approved an amended version of HB 789 that bans municipal wireless services. That's disappointing, of course, but the blow is somewhat softened by exceptions for existing and planned projects. The bill also calls for the State PUC (Public Utilities Commission) to conduct further study, and make recommendations for the next legislative session.

The amended bill would add a new section 54.2022 that prohibits municipalities from charging for wireless services. Existing services would be grandfathered. New services could be offered only on an amenity (i.e., free) basis. Cities can set up public/private partnerships where a private ISP provides service for a fee.

Cities would have until September 1, 2006 to setup these services (or until June 15, 2006 to inform the PUC about their plans to set up a service). After that, cities would be prohibited from offering wireless access—free or otherwise.

The deadlines and "grandfather clauses" show that the Legislature doesn't yet fully appreciate the value of more high-speed Internet. Limiting the future deployment of city-supported wireless networks would be as short-sighted as limiting electric networks back in 1915.

We're also troubled that the restrictions will fall hardest in the poorest areas of the State, which may not have plans as advanced as Dallas or Houston.

While we aren't happy with this legislation (what happens to a library built in 2007?), this bill isn't as bad as it might have been—not by a long shot.

The next stop is the State Senate, and we will have an opportunity to lay out our concerns there.

Thanks to your support we've made great progress. We'll need your continued support to see this all the way through.

Posted by chip at March 23, 2005 09:28 PM