Kansas Capital-Journal, February 5, 2014
The strong signal of political blowback — not an avalanche of snow suspending Capitol activity for two days — buried a cable industry bill imposing a statewide ban on local municipalities building broadband networks.
The Senate Commerce Committee scheduled a public hearing Tuesday and a vote Thursday on Senate Bill 304, but the plug was pulled amid assertions the legislation was written so broadly as to potentially touch the Google high-speed Internet project in Wyandotte County along with the intended small-town targets.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, stepped into the melee in a bid to calm the storm. The bill sought by the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, representing large cable providers, was placed on hold indefinitely pending a rewrite.
Under the bill, labeled the Municipal Communications Network and Private Telecommunications Investment Safeguard Act, cities and towns in Kansas would be prohibited from establishing broadband networks. For example, a ban would be applicable in Chanute where the city wants to enlarge its fiber optic network for business and government to serve private homes.
The association endorsed withdrawal of the Senate bill to allow drafting an alternative to narrow language defining “unserved areas” in terms of broadband services. The current version was “too broad” and an amended bill should allow municipal governments to invest in telecommunications infrastructure serving communities who are “truly unserved,” he said.
Sen. Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican and chairwoman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said removal of the bill from the committee’s calendar was a sign the legislation process worked as designed.
“I visited with industry representatives, and they have agreed to spend some time gathering input before we move forward with a public hearing,” she said.
Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said sweep of the original Senate bill would have put a lid on municipal networks directly offering services and on private-public partnerships to expand access.
“This bill is the most over-reaching we’ve ever seen,” he said. “This is the kind of language one would expect to see if the goal is to protect politically powerful cable and telephone company monopolies rather than just limiting local authority to deliver services.”
Similar cable-authored legislation has surfaced in other states to prevent communities from building fiber optic networks if anything faster than dial-up is available in town, Mitchell said.
He said political movement against community-owned Internet operations began in about 2001 at the American Legislative Exchange Council, an organization that works with conservative state lawmakers across the country.