Municipal Broadband Bill Teed Up In Missouri

Legislation Would Undermine Muny Broadband Efforts, Advocates Say

A bill has been introduced in the Missouri state legislature that would prevent cities and communities from overbuilding existing broadband providers, according to the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), which advocates for municipal broadband.

The bill (linked here) would invalidate any local laws that allowed for the provision of competitive service unless that service met a number of criteria, including that there was no competitive privately-offered service and that the laws allowing for municipal broadband were adopted after citizens voted on them in a ballot initiative and only after a study of the financial implications of the network was made public at least 90 days before that vote.

Some cable operators have backed state preemption, arguing that cities are overbuilding existing service and that some of those overbuilds fail, leaving taxpayers holding the bag.

CLIC was not happy. "The state of Missouri is the latest legislature to attempt to erect barriers to the deployment of broadband networks that are critical to the future of its local economies and the nation," the group said in a statement. "High-bandwidth communications networks are the electricity of the 21st century and no community should be stymied or hampered in its efforts to deploy new future-proof communications infrastructure for its citizens - either by itself or with willing private partners."

The statement came the same day that it was reported President Obama would be in Cedar Falls, Iowa, this week -- Cedar Falls has a 1 gigabit broadband network provided by Cedar Falls Utilities -- to promote high-speed broadband build-outs.

The FCC is currently considering petitions by Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C., to preempt laws in their states that similarly limit municipal broadband buildouts.

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has suggested the agency should use its pre-emption powers to pre-empt state laws he attributes to private Internet service providers' attempts to prevent competition.

ISPs argue that what they are trying to prevent is government-subsidized services given a competitive advantage.