Tennessee, Colorado move to repeal anti-muni network laws

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam stated yesterday he has legislation to remove restrictions that prevent co-ops and municipalities from owning broadband networks. The governor will formally present this legislation to state legislators who will meet, discuss, probably edit, and hopefully pass it into law.

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Co-ops would be permitted to build networks, and municipalities could partner with co-ops in moving these projects forward. Municipalities could offer broadband at a wholesale level to cooperatives. “At that point, the cooperative could provide retail broadband service to individual customers who may be outside a municipality.” In addition to allowing electric co-ops to provide telecom services, State Sen. Janice Bowling has introduced legislation to allow municipal power utilities to expand services across Tennessee.

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Battle flagGovernor Haslam joins a growing number of governors, legislators, and community leaders working to reduce or eliminate legislative restrictions on community- and public private partnership-owned networks. It has been a long righteous battle and often 21 states had to find work-around for restrictions that legislators imposed.

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The various governors and legislators committing publicly to building more broadband infrastructure are turning the tide on efforts to repeal or negate the effects of anti-muni network laws. It is difficult to lead the charge for increasing deployments when you have laws crippling community broadband.

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State Senator Lucia Guzman drove a repeal effort in Colorado last year and is doing it again this session. Here’s the formal paperwork. The hearing for the bill is February 13 in the Business, Labor, & Technology Committee. I’m not sure if or when a hearing will be held in the State Assembly.

Georgia, which has seen several attempts by legislators to pass municipal broadband restrictions, got ahead of the curve last fall. A group of legislators and community stakeholders met to form a broadband strategy that included an endorsement of community networks as an option for increasing deployments.

In Nevada, the governor and legislators met during the fall to discuss how they how they can increase broadband buildouts and might be community broadband’s role. Currently there is no ban on cities under 50,000 people, but larger cities cannot build networks. I’m trying to locate a report describing their broadband plans.

North Carolina Rep. Susan Martin and Sen. Harry Brown last year pledged to save the town of Pinetops, which got fiber service from the adjacent city of Wilson, which has a fiber network. Currently, there is nearly a total ban on municipal networks except in four cities grandfathered into the law. I haven’t heard anything about their progress. Since the state just elected a Democratic governor, I’m guessing any respectable bill probably would be signed.

Incumbents double down

Virginia was surprised by from proposed bill (likely ghostwritten by the incumbents’ lobbyist) threatening to turn their existing restriction into a near complete ban. The grassroots response has been fierce, and Governor Terry McAuliffe has threatened to veto the bill.

In Missouri a legislator brought back a bill hoping to replace the state’s relatively manageable restriction with much tougher restrictions. But people weren’t too surprised since they saw the bill in 2014 and 2015. Opposition is as fierce as in Virginia.

In Alabama it is assumed that State Senator Tom Whatley, who tried previously to repeal their restrictions, will try it again this year. Given the trend that seems to favor rolling back legislation, Senator Whatley might have a better than even chance this time around.

My Web site has Snapshot Reports from January 2015 and October 2016 that have lots of background on the various states that have anti-muni network laws. The October report highlights progress that has been made either working around the laws or trying to get rid of them.



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