Georgia Bill Would Curb Muni Overbuilds

Incumbents Concerned about Government Becoming Competitors
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WASHINGTON — Georgia cable operators could be getting some help in their ongoing fight against overbuilders.

A bill has been introduced in the Georgia House of Representatives that would prevent local governments from providing municipal broadband service where MSOs or other incumbent providers are delivering service to at least one customer at throughput speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second or greater.

Those incumbents are understandably concerned about governments overbuilding their plant — either federally funded broadband stimulus projects or municipal efforts.

Municipal services in operation before July 2013 would be grandfathered in, but anyone building a system after that date would be liable for “all loss, damage or injury” from the overbuild.

In 2011, North Carolina passed a law restricting local governments’ ability to compete with private cable and telecom companies.

While he did not call out the Georgia bill by name, FCC chairman Julius Genachowski issued a statement billed as targeted to “proposed state legislation that would restrict the deployment of municipal broadband networks,” which fits the bill, as it were.

“If a community can’t gain access to broadband services that meet its needs, then it should be able to serve its own residents directly,” Genachowski said. “Proposals that would tie the hands of innovative communities that want to build their own high-speed networks will slow progress to our nation’s broadband goals and will hurt economic development and job creation in those areas.”

The chairman urged state legislators instead to “focus on proposals that incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure, remove barriers to broadband buildout and ensure widespread access to high-speed networks.”

The legislature appears to be trying to do both. A separate bill introduced earlier this month would streamline the construction or modification of wireless communications facilities, by encouraging co-location on existing towers, limiting zoning and permitting fees to the actual costs of the process, and setting a 90-day “shot clock” for a decision by local governments on applications for modification or co-location.

If there is no decision after those 90 days expire, the request will be considered granted.