Tearing down anti-muni broadband barriers in 2015?

hole in wallI’m going to go out on a limb and make a couple of New Year’s predictions, a practice I’ve always avoided like the plague. But after my research for my latest Community Broadband Snapshot Report that addresses state legislative barriers to public-owned broadband, I feel pretty confident about this.

First, I predict there will be a surge of effort to counter the impact of current state laws that prevent municipalities and public utilities from building or expanding their broadband networks. Second, there will be a number of legislative bodies that, at the behest of giant telco and cable company lobbyists, will try to add new restrictive laws to the books, which I expect will be met with fierce opposition.

If-Then Laws Minefield Laws Total Bans
Alabama Florida Arkansas
California Louisiana Missouri
Colorado N. Carolina Montana
Iowa S. Carolina Nebraska
Michigan Utah Tennessee
Minnesota Virginia

The pressure to get faster, better broadband is already intense and the increasing number of high profile public broadband success stories will fan the flames of desire to keep up with the digital Joneses. A couple things stand in the way and are slowing down progress: not enough ready capital and these damn state laws

We should expect another round of new states floating anti-muni broadband bills because incumbents will be leaning on legislatures like a drunken sailor because – fear. FCC Chairman Wheeler within 30 days announced his interest in 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps being the benchmark for entities receiving CAF money, and this week suggested 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up define broadband. Boom. BOOM! Oh yeah, Chairman Wheeler also strongly hinted he’s liking the idea of re-classifying ISP as telecom services under Title II. Last thing incumbents need topping this off is a bunch of gig city competitors.

Navigate, mitigate, eliminate

My latest Snapshot Report does a deep dive into the 21 states with legislative barriers to broadband. Actually, 20 states have statutes addressing public networks, and Iowa legislators expanded a long-standing law that governs public utilities to also apply to public networks. These laws in many cases impede communities’ ability to pick the best solutions to meet their broadband needs, subsequently shortchanging local opportunities to expand economic development.

How to Navigate, Mitigate or Eliminate the Impacts of State Restrictions on Public Broadband” brings some good news for those states, though. I uncovered avenues to mitigating or removing some of the barriers. Even some of the total bans leave communities with options for moving forward. In some cases, though, it may be better to leave several of the laws in place rather than try to remove them.

This report examines potential remedies from the federal level down and from the grassroots up to the statehouse. Starting with the most basic advice—know your state’s law thoroughly—I offer insights on increasing networks’ financial sustainability, building political allies, uncovering new funding sources and securing private-sector partners. The report also confronts two of the most pervasive myths critics use to enforce these statutes, and it explains how to effectively counter the falsehoods with the facts. I feel that once communities in these states realize they have options at several levels to pull them from the shadows of these laws, local economic pressures and these various developments at the Federal level will give public network projects a boost.

As to the introduction of new anti muni broadband laws, I’m not positive which state legislatures will strike. But I think it’s a safe bet to keep an eye on Kansas because there are some corporate egos smarting from the smackdown citizens gave them last year. And Georgia’s legislature seems genetically programmed to fight this battle every year. Public-private partnership rock star Macquarie’s latest move into Kentucky could inspire a legislative strike because the company struck a massive deal to build a public-private network in eastern Kentucky. We’ll see how the states play out, but by February we should know legislatures might make a play.

Download your copy of the report and let me know what you think. Will 2015 be the year we see communities move out from under the shadow cast by these laws?

5 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on Cyber Report.

  2. […] municipally owned broadband, often it’s not an outright ban. So, last week, Settles published an analysis of every single law on the book. And there’s a lot of […]

  3. […] municipally owned broadband, often it’s not an outright ban. So, last week, Settles published an analysis of every single law on the book. And there’s a lot of […]

  4. […] 19 state laws that make building municipal networks harder. The most recent list of restrictions, a January report by consultant Craig Settles, actually cites 21 state rules, and some other lists count one more in […]

  5. Montana does not have a complete ban. We cannot be an ISP but we can build infrastructure. The City of Bozeman is currently looking to build its own network and even our incumbent cable provider is in support because they can reach their customers and we are not competing against them.

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