Georgia muni broadband bill defeated again; West Virginia holding back broadband report


Broadband policies and projects are getting interesting this week. After significant protest from major telecom stakeholders and municipal officials, a bill brought by republicans in the Georgia legislature to curb municipal broadband has been defeated again. In West Virginia, The Charleston Gazzette alleges that state officials are holding back another negative report about the troubled broadband expansion in that state.

CivSource has been tracking a bill introduced by republicans in the last two sessions of the Georgia legislature that would effectively limit the ability of municipalities to build out broadband infrastructure in their towns even where no private provider currently offers the service. Republicans there claim that municipal networks provide unfair competition to private networks, even though the big telcos like Verizon and AT&T have said they don’t have a business case to build there.

The bill which is supported and largely written by providers like AT&T and CenturyLink, was first brought last year, after the same group of telcos was successful in passing similar bills in other states. It was defeated the first time, following protests from municipal organizations and companies like Google, which reignited their campaigns when the measure was brought again this session. Notably, opposition to the bill garnered bipartisan support, perhaps indicating that the broader economic health of the entire state might outweigh the needs of AT&T. (See the full voting record)

Earlier this week, we reported on the cancellation of a broadband summit that was to be held in West Virginia, to discuss the way forward following the expansion of broadband statewide. The summit was cancelled following a negative report from the Legislative Auditor showing that officials misappropriated between $7-15 million in federal grant funds on $20,000+ routers that will go under utilized.

Now, new reports are emerging that still another report is being withheld from the public. The Charleston Gazzette is reporting that a state agency paid a consultant over $100,000 to review the state’s use of its $126 million federal broadband grant, and that report is now being withheld from the public because the results would be “embarrassing” to some public officials.

Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette confirmed the existence of the report to the paper only after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Burdette has declined to release it, saying that it was an internal memo, containing the names of specific companies and specific state officials – information that should be kept private. He claims that although the memo and subsequent recommendations were drafted, he didn’t use it because he didn’t agree with their assessment.