July 28, 2005

Municipal broadband restrictions in the US Senate

Senator Ensign of Nevada filed a rewrite of national telecom law. The bill places severe restrictions on the ability of a local government to support broadband access.

If you read this post and agree, please write to Senators Hutchison and Cornyn (addresses below) and let them know you oppose restrictions on community broadband.

Here's how the Ensign bill affects municipal broadband:

A municipality that wants to bring in a broadband network needs to conduct a public request for proposal (so far not bad, most projects include an RFP). But that RFP needs to be conducted by a "neutral third party." This adds a layer of brand new bureacracy, since cities typically run the bidding process for roads, water towers, and other services.

The municipality needs to make a public announcement of the project. That's not bad, and in practice, cities do this. However, the bill micromanages what cities must announce in advance, including cost, services, coverage, terms and "architecture". Sometimes cities conduct a broad RFP and consider different approaches by private sector providers

The bill requires that a government provider must disclose any benefitsthat are not available to the private sector, such as free rights of way, public bonds. However, it does not require private sector providers making bids to disclose government subsidies such as economic development funds, USF grants, etc. This provision hides the cost of government subsidy of telecom companies.

The bill says that the "neutral third party" shall give non-governmental entities preference in the bidding process in the case of "identical bids". This language seems like an invitation for litigation, since projects that have multiple options are never "identical".

This is a bad deal for citizens. The Ensign restrictions are not quite as bad as the Sessions bill, which is an outright ban on municipal broadband in a region that has broadband access in a tiny corner.

But the Ensign bill adds a new level of bureaucracy to local government, and micro-manages the way that local governments provide services. This is federal meddling in the ability of cities and towns to make responsible, accountable choices for the community.

For more analysis on the municipal broadband restrictions in the Ensign bill, see MuniWireless.com's writeup. For more analysis on the bill as a whole, see Harold Feld's analysis, here

Let our Senators know

Please write Senators Hutchison and Cornyn, and encourage them to oppose the restrictions on municipal broadband in the telecom bill.

Encourage the Senators to support the McCain Lautenberg Community Broadband Act, SB1294, which removes restrictions on municipal broadband.

Senator Hutchison:
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-4304
202-224-0776 (FAX)
202-224-5903 (TDD)

Senator Cornyn
Washington DC
517 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Tel: 202-224-2934
Fax: 202-228-2856

Posted by alevin at July 28, 2005 02:31 PM