While broadband advocates were fighting fierce battles to defeat anti-muni network bills that were eventually won in Kansas and twice in Utah, Tennessee legislators were quietly ushering through not one but FOUR bills to un-do some of the restrictions previous legies put in place several years ago.
This kind of reversal is practically unheard of in the 19 states that clamped lids on muni nets. What’s more surprising? Republicans lawmakers, typically the party that leads the charge against public-owned networks, are taking the lead on many of these bills in Tennessee!
Actually what’s happening is full bi-partisanship in dual-chamber drives. A rather impressive display, really. Each bill has a state senate and state house version, there are Republican and Democratic sponsors of the bills and most of the bills appear to have several co-sponsors from both parties. Yowsah! This is sort of like Santa Claus making a second post-Christmas delivery for community broadband advocates when you consider the muni net wins in very conservative Utah and Kansas, and now this Tennessee waltz.
I haven’t been able to catch up with people on the ground to get details, but here’s what I’ve pieced together after roaming the Web. The bills appear to be a somewhat piecemeal effort since each one tackles an element of the broadband picture, or enables a specific city’s or county’s public network to offer broadband services to other communities. Until I speak with one of the lawmakers, I’ll guess that the political landscape is such that advancing separate bills was deemed the best way to achieve success. The clear bi-partisanship and support in both bodies shows that these folks are serious about getting the job done.
For years I have said that when you get down to the local level, public-owned networks and services gets a lot of bipartisan support. People here see the issue as being about economic advancement or just plain survival of the community, plus countless constituents are sick and tired of being screwed by the big incumbents. Add in the specter of a Comcast/Time Warner Godzilla, and political philosophy takes a backseat to pragmatic consensus building.
It’s at the state level where partisan politics cripples many states’ ability to facilitate the roles of local governments and public utilities as full partners in broadband solutions, and as credible competitors to address what is currently monopoly or duopoly conditions in communities. But these bills demonstrate that Tennessee legislators feel the same sense of urgency you see at the local level.
Don’t think that this current trendsetting has gone unnoticed by either private service providers or the Tea Party. A group of providers recently met with legies to express their concerns that these bills would lead to unfair competition. The Quote of the Day from that detente session: “…municipalities could cherry-pick our more populated areas, leaving the more remote, rural consumers to bear the high cost of delivering broadband to these less populated regions.” Pot, meet Kettle.
It can be safely said that the Tea Partying crowd is blowing a gasket or two, accusing the Republicans who are sponsoring bills with duplicity and forgetting their roots. Republicans, however, aren’t backing down. Sen. Janice Bowling, one of the bill’s sponsors, calmly requested everyone to take a chill pill.
“This is actually about private corporations versus the people,” she told one publication. “In today’s world, people need these services in order to survive, much less thrive. It has become the electricity of the 21st century to have adequate broadband access.” And her quote that made me practically swoon – “The government should provide those things that the people can’t provide for themselves and that the market is not providing for them.”
What does it mean?
First and foremost, this development means that the reality of broadband’s role as the utility of the 21st Century has taken root in at least one formerly hostile statehouse. If Sen. Bowling’s sentiments and actions in the face of a ticked off political base are reflective of broader legislative thinking, broadband just received a serious shot in the arm. Remember, Tennessee has Chattanooga, the broadband superstar of these United States. Google is threatening to bring a gig to Nashville. How can legies continue to face their constituents in other communities and justify gig riches to some, and life as a broadband backwater to everyone else?
Second, the need for good people to rally in the name of broadband is upon us again. But this time as allies to legies on both sides of the aisle rather than adversaries. State senators and house members need to see a strong showing by voters that you have their backs as legislators face down incumbent backlash. I’ll know more Friday, but it seems some hearings are scheduled as soon as Monday, so time is short. We have to get on e-mail, Facebook, Reddit, the telephone, fax machines if you got ‘em. Below are the bills along with short summaries and links to more details.
Reach out and touch some sponsors and co-sponsors. Thank them for taking up the good fight for community broadband. Offer to reach out to their colleagues. Let’s Tennessee waltz these bills across the finish line.
|Telecommunications||Lets Clarksville muni utility expand
broadband to areas outside of town
|Telecommunications||Lets Trousdale County to contract
w electric co-op to provide broadband
|Telecommunications||Lets electric co-ops with dark fiber serve
people un-served by telephone co-op
|Municipal Government||Allows muni utilities to expand broadband
into rural communities
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