​Kansas May Ban Municipal Broadband

Author: Jennifer HongBy:
Staff Reporter
Aug. 7, 2014

Kansas legislation for municipal broadband would make it almost impossible for cities and towns to offer services to residents and might perhaps outlaw public-private broadband partnerships such as Google Fiber.

The Senate bill doesn’t list any lawmaker as its sponsor, and there’s a reason-a Senate employee told us it was submitted by John Federico on behalf of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, of which he is president.

That’s a lobby group with members such as Comcast, Cox, Eagle Communications, and Time Warner Cable. The bill was introduced this week, referred to the Committee on Commerce, and scheduled for discussion for Tuesday of next week.

The telco-written bill starts out pleasantly enough, saying its goal is to “Ensure that video, telecommunications, and broadband services are provided through fair competition consistent with the federal telecommunications act of 1996” to “encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates; and ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive, and nondiscriminatory federal, state, and local government framework.”

But instead of promoting development in broadband networks, the bill actually limits the possibility of them being built. Here’s the key passage:

Except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly:(1) Offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications, or broadband service; or(2) purchase, lease, construct, maintain, or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications, or broadband service to one or more subscribers.

A municipality would not be able to offer broadband “through a partnership, joint venture, or other entity in which the municipality participates,” the bill says. The city or town also would not be able to use its powers of eminent domain to condemn any facility “for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications, or broadband service to one or more subscribers.”

While the bill lets cities and towns offer service in “unserved areas,” it defines such areas as those where at least 90 percent of households lack access to any broadband service, whether it be “fixed or mobile, or satellite broadband service” at the minimum broadband speed defined by the Federal Communications Commission, which is 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up.

Since satellite can be used pretty much anywhere at broadband speeds (but with annoying latency), it would be hard to identify any “unserved areas” as defined by this legislation. The bill does allow networks “for internal government purposes,” but not for any users outside the government.

The bill has unsurprisingly drawn outrage. “The language in this bill prohibits not only networks that directly offer services but even public-private partnerships and open access approaches,” wrote Christopher Mitchell of Community Broadband Networks. “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.”

The city of Chanute, which “has established its own fiber optic network for government use and as a service to local businesses,” condemned the legislation, according to the Chanute Tribune.

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