Pro-Cable Muni Bill Dies in Iowa

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An Iowa campaign promoting municipal broadband operations can proceed without the legislative oversight sought by an unprecedented coalition of cable operators, telephone companies, union representatives and energy providers.

The state legislature broke up late last month without the Senate taking up HF 861, a bill that would have set specific guidelines for cities that wish to launch broadband operations. For instance, research would have been required for public distribution, including five-year profit-and-loss expectations for such new businesses.

Under state law, a referendum must be held when large amounts of general-obligation bonds are issued. This bill would have specified that funding for broadband operations fit that criteria, and that 60% of voters would have needed to approve any such measure.

The bill was seen as a counter to OpportunityIowa, a group launched earlier this year by former broadcaster Clark McLeod in support of municipal broadband. That organization is lobbying cities across the state to hold elections this November on municipal broadband builds.

OpportunityIowa receives funding from Fiberultilities of Iowa, another McLeod enterprise, which intends to pick up construction projects from municipal operations.

Long List of Backers

Backing the bill were the Iowa Cable Telecommunications Association, Mediacom Communications Corp., Cox Communications Inc, Cable One Inc., the Iowa Telecommunications Association, Qwest Communications International Inc., Sprint Corp., the Communications Workers of America and Alliant Energy. Lined up against it were the cities and OpportunityIowa.

The bill passed the state House, 61-39, but did not emerge from the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Tom Graves, executive director of the ICTA, said the committee chair told bill backers the measure just wasn't supported in the chairman's hometown.

It was hard to get any legislation through this session, Graves added, because the Senate was almost equally divided between the two political parties.

Graves said he didn't think OpportunityIowa has gained much traction, but some cities are examining potential broadband projects.

Dubuque Kicking Tires

Dubuque, for one, has hired consultants to evaluate technology currently available in the local market to determine if there are “unmet needs” that can be filled by a municipal operation.

Mediacom currently serves Dubuque. The city's analysis is being supported by a local chapter of OpportunityIowa. The analysis is due in August.

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