Boucher, Upton Back Muni Nets

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Abill to encourage the deployment of municipal broadband projects by prohibiting state bans on such initiatives has been introduced by House Energy and Commerce Committee members Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

The sponsors note that 14 states have passed laws that prevent or significantly restrict the rights of cities and other local governments to offer broadband services.

“If commercial broadband providers are not willing to deploy in particular areas, local governments should be able to step in and fill the gap,” Boucher said, in a prepared statement, when introducing the bill on Aug. 1.

While this statement alludes to broadband to unserved areas, the bill itself does not preclude local governments from competing with a commercial broadband provider. The text of the bill, dubbed the Community Broadband Act of 2007, states that cities pursue broadband projects in a competitively neutral way. That means they are not to give their own broadband plant preferred status when using the public rights-of-way, obtaining permits or performance bonding, or in procurement or reporting standards.

Homeland security is also cited as a reason to support the bill. Both noted the collapse of communications following hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma and suggest locally deployed technologies would help first responders more quickly react to disaster when “old ways of communicating” no longer work.

City councils and other local government bodies would not be able to approve a broadband project behind closed doors. The bill mandates governments publish notices of their intent to move into broadband business, describe the services to be rendered and the footprint of the plant, identify special services to be provided to low-income areas and provide residents and current providers with the opportunity to speak to the proposed costs of a project, or alternatives to it. But the bills stops short of mandating a community vote on such projects.

The bill defines advanced communications capabilities to include high-quality voice, data, graphics, video or other communications.

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