The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is boosting broadband expansion in rural america. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made a pledge to make E-rate funds go further to support broadband to schools and libraries. Even while this activity is happening at the federal level, another state is examining the same bill that has been cropping up all over the country and is designed to thwart municipal broadband network construction. The Kansas legislature is now looking at curbing municipal networks even after being to host an inaugural Google Fiber city.
By a unanimous vote yesterday, the Commission voted to promote the transition from older circuit-switched, TDM-based networks to next-generation Internet Protocol-based networks.
Specifically, the Commission’s order outlines a call for multiple pilot projects to examine how best to make the technology transition while preserving consumer welfare and promoting the widespread deployment and use of broadband networks. As part of those projects, the Commission will be using “test beds” to experiment with different models of bringing next-generation high-speed broadband to rural areas.
Congress is also working to extend next generation networks everywhere through the current Farm Bill which includes a newly created Rural Gigabit Network Pilot Program that will provide $10 million annually in loans for five years to extend next generation connectivity to rural areas. Ironically, if this bill passes – Kansas one of the states that has had Google Fiber from day one may not be able to take advantage of this pilot program. The same bill that sought to kill off municipal broadband networks in North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Georgia, is now up for debate in the Kansas Senate.
Stop The Cap! shows that the biggest telecom providers, and supporters of this bill have already made generous donations to a number of the lawmakers backing the measure. The bill would potentially keep the Google network from expanding through other municipalities as well as keeping out any municipal broadband efforts from going forward. Kansas is a state with both urban and rural populations and would stand to benefit from the provision included in the proposed Farm Bill.
In previous versions of this fight, Google itself staged protests along with other municipal networks on the ground. Kansas has a smaller municipal broadband base, but networks besides Google’s already exist. The Kansas legislature maintains solid republican control, much of the support for the bill comes from republican lawmakers.