Pa. Nixes Municipal Telecom Overbuilds

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Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has approved an amendment of state telecommunications policy that includes clauses that will prevent municipal overbuilds of telephone and cable broadband providers after 2006.

According to the bill, cities have until 2006 to develop municipal telecommunications plans, including Wi-Fi products. After that, they can only go into broadband businesses in commercial partnerships, and incumbent local-exchange carriers must be given the right of first refusal.

The bill attracted heavy opposition from individual cities and consumer groups, but Rendell issued a statement when he signed the bill noting that the revision would hasten the deployment of high-speed-data products throughout the state.

Verizon Communications was the bill's major promoter, but its stance was supported by the Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania.

The bill doesn't go as far as cable companies wanted, however. They drafted language that would have prevented overbuilds anywhere there is already a commercial provider, association president Dan Tunnell said.

The cable lobby supported the telco's version of the bill, settling for "the good instead of waiting for the perfect," Tunnell said.

Cable also wanted language in the bill that would prevent state or local fees and taxes on voice-over-Internet-protocol services. Rendell's statement noted that Pennsylvania wants to foster that product and, rather than regulating it, all reference to VoIP was excised from the telecommunications bill.

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