Cable and telecom companies don’t like municipal broadband. The idea of municipal broadband has been under attack since the first high-profile city-backed network launched in Chattanooga, Tennessee a few years ago. Since then, private companies have been on the attack, placing bills throughout state legislatures that would limit municipal ability to get local networks approved and deployed. On Friday, Republican lawmaker Kathy Byron introduced one such bill in Virginia.
The bill supported by the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association lobby group reads similarly to some other 20 bills that have cropped up throughout the country. If passed, the measure would make it nearly impossible for city councils to assign funding and build out local networks without polling all of the local private providers and doing a study. Specifically, cities wouldn’t be able to create networks if an existing network already provides 10Mbps download and 1Mbps upload speeds to 90 percent of potential customers, which is basically what you get with DSL. Private companies would also be able to sue to stop networks.
The bill would negatively impact municipal broadband plans already underway in Roanoke, Virginia. According to a piece in the Roanoke Times, Roanoke City Manager Chris Morrill says the bill would end plans for the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority’s new broadband network. The authority is working on a 47-mile broadband network that would modernize and improve broadband service throughout the valley. Funding for the project has already been approved and set aside.
The article also notes the campaign contributions Byron has taken from the telecommunications industry – “Since 1998, she has received $36,100 from Verizon, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. Only the Republican Party of Virginia has contributed more to Byron’s campaigns during that span. Other donation totals include $15,000 from the Virginia Cable Telecommunications Association, $9,250 from AT&T, $3,500 from CenturyLink and $3,000 from Comcast.”
Private companies say municipal broadband makes for unfair competition because local governments can afford to subsidize the cost of the development. Municipal networks, however, often crop up as an alternative to private service in towns where companies have no plans to build networks because they are too small or too rural to be profitable. As CivSource has previously reported, ban bills tend to come up in states with significant rural and small town populations like Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee and now Missouri. As DSL Reports notes, provisions in the bills also routinely make it harder for municipalities to partner with companies like Google Fiber or other upstart providers that are private but aren’t part of the ATT/Comcast/Verizon mega-network club.