Incumbents Try [Again] to Get Georgia State Legies to Kill Muni Broadband!

EXTRA! EXTRA! Read all about it! FCC Chair calls for a gigabit network in every state! Big telcos tell Georgia businesses and students 1.5 Mbps is plenty.

Wow.

You have to give it ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and their state legislative handmaidens. Last year they tried to pass a Georgia law restricting the rights of municipalities to find their own best solutions to pitifully poor broadband. The full-frontal assault failed. So they changed tactics and are back again this year.

ALEC’s decided, “let’s try weasel-worded bills instead.” Bills full of soothing, innocuous words such as “level playing field,” and supported with nice sounding subterfuge such as “it only restricts investment to areas that are most needing it.”

Call it like it is! In reality, the bill strips communities and their local governments of the right to save/boost local economies using whatever strategies locals decide are best. Let’s not kid ourselves. This kind of legislative trench warfare isn’t going to stop. So if it’s warfare AT&T, Windstream et al want, communities must gird themselves for continuous legislative battles.

“In Georgia, telecom incumbents have found state legislators to sponsor H282 to limit businesses, doctors, students and residents to 1.5Mbps broadband speed,” states Catherine Rice, President of SEATOA (Southeast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors). “Georgians need to say ‘no!’ to this harmful legislation.”

Even the FCC felt compelled to speak out against this latest attempted roadblock. Chairman Julius Genachowski stated, “Proposals that would tie the hands of innovative communities that want to build their own high-speed networks will slow progress to our nation’s broadband goals and will hurt economic development and job creation in those areas. I urge state and local leaders to focus instead on proposals that incentivize investment in broadband infrastructure, remove barriers to broadband build-out, and ensure widespread access to high-speed networks.”

New rules to level the playing field

Change the terms of engagement. From the statehouses down to the constituent level, too many folks think of broadband primarily as entertainment. Much of the verbiage we use to describe, legislate, fund and market broadband treats it as a commodity product or service. We talk about speeds, unfair competition, take rates, prices, data caps, market-driven solutions, etc. But in some circles, broadband and economic development is more rhetoric than conviction.

Communities have to think outside of, or blow up, the boxes labeled Broadband-as-Entertainment and Broadband-as-Telecom-Commodity. Next, force legislators out of those boxes. “In this Information Age,” continues Rice, “educational opportunities, healthcare, job availability, public safety, and civic participation are increasingly defined by the quality and capability of the local broadband infrastructure.”

Finally, graduate elected officials and policymakers from the rhetoric of broadband and economic development to actually enacting policies and programs that make broadband an economic development engine.

Make no mistake, enlightening legislators is an uphill battle given the millions of dollars in propaganda that lobbyists use to carpet bomb state and Federal governments as well as the media. Nevertheless, legislators must be educated that it is mainly the people working in the trenches on broadband projects who understand how these networks become economic development assets in those communities. Locals know best how to get their education, healthcare and business stakeholders to leverage the assets.

To get the inside track on how communities in Georgia are getting better broadband *despite* the incumbents, check out this Gigabit Nation radio interview with the Mayor of Thomasville, GA. They own their own network.

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