How Election Day Can Shape States’ Community Broadband Laws

26 Colorado communities most likely will pass referenda this week to get back their rights to build public-owned broadband networks. Communities have decided it’s easier to run referenda elections then getting the prohibition rescinded.

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A grassroots drive led by Wilson, NC and two state legislators will take on that state’s prohibition against community broadband. A win by the Democratic governor candidate, and electing some new Democratic legislators could definitely improve the grassroots’ efforts chances of success.

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voteIn Tennessee and Alabama, several Republican legislators are gearing up to aggressively tackle their respective state prohibitions against public broadband. We should expect to see some major grassroots drive in Tennessee. The legislature most likely will remain Republican after election day, but who wins those legislative seats in rural areas will heavily influenced the outcome of that fight.

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Except for North Carolina, none of governors in states with restrictions are up for reelection this year, so obviously the election won’t affect this part of state politics. However, the governors’ offices in several states with restrictions are proactively reviewing current and future broadband policies, and pro-public broadband advocates should have seats at the table. Luckily, policy workarounds are sometimes possible without having to deal with legislative throw-downs over current laws.

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The time for community broadband champions to engage their newly and re-elected state senators and representatives is from November 9 until January 3. Chris Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance says, “Concerned citizens need to organize and speak out. This is a great time for meeting your state representatives by phone, email, or in-person because the big industry lobbyists work them constantly. Let legislators know this is an important issue and you are watching them.”

From January on, cities and counties need to play hardball politics in the name of community broadband, and play it well. Local government officials, community stakeholders and engaged citizens have roles to play in the ballgame. My October Community Broadband Snapshot Report lays out some tactics.

Build voters coalitions now that promise to vote next time for state senators or reps who support broadband policies that enable public broadband, or vote for opponents of legislators who side with incumbents rather than communities. Be aware of – and respond to – legislative coalitions that are good for community broadband, and push for new alliances between legislators and local businesses that can write campaign contributions.

Co-ops are excellent allies. The pro-muni network crowd needs to combine forces in a legislative strategy to get improved broadband policy from the statehouse. Where you can, push to get less restrictive laws or favorable broadband policies to offset unfavorable laws. Aggressive horse-trading with legislators can be in everyone’s best interests.

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