Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) introduced legislation Thursday that would allow local governments to provide high-speed Internet access on the condition that towns and cities don’t abuse their power over private providers.
In a statement, McCain said municipal entry was necessary because the United States is lagging behind South Korea, Japan and Canada in broadband penetration and those countries have promoted the entry of local governments.
The McCain-Lautenberg bill (S-1294) contains competitive safeguards. For example, a local government can impose a 3% franchise fee on itself but a 5% fee on cable and phone providers of high-speed Internet access.
As McCain was introducing his bill, a coalition of 40 municipal organizations, high-tech companies and consumer groups surfaced seeking exactly the kind of legislative protection the bill would apparently address.
The coalition members believe local governments can help to meet President Bush's mandate for universal affordable access to broadband technology by 2007 by developing broadband systems to serve areas deemed financially impractical by commercial operators.
The groups noted that 13 states have already placed restrictions on future municipal telecommunications projects. Municipal rights should be protected, whether as part of an overhaul of the federal Telecommunications Act or as separate legislation, according to group members.
The group sent a letter of support for community broadband to all members of Congress. Coalition participants include the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Public Power Association, the Fiber to the Home Council, the Information Technology Association of America, the League of California Cities, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, the National Association of Counties and Indian tribal government groups, among others.
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, issued a letter of support for the effort, according to the coalition.