A bill introduced this week would impose sweeping new restrictions on municipal broadband networks. The language in Senate Bill 304 is so broad that it could prohibit cities from leasing space on water towers to cell phone companies, or even installing WiFi networks in public libraries, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's Christopher Mitchell.
“If I was a cable company, I would be praying this bill would pass,” Mitchell says. He adds that if enacted, the measure would virtually eliminate any possibility that the incumbent cable providers -- mainly Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable -- would face competition.
Among other provisions, the law would prohibit municipalities from offering video, telephone or broadband service in any “unserved” area. It also would prohibit municipalities from leasing, buying or operating any facility that would enable private businesses to offer broadband, video or telecom service in unserved areas.
The measure defines “unserved” quite narrowly: areas where at least 90% of households have no access to any sort of broadband service.
Existing municipal broadband networks, including the 1 Gbps network that Google launched in Kansas City, would be allowed to continue operating. But the bill seems likely prevent Google from creating any new networks.
The measure reportedly was submitted on behalf of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, according to Ars Technica.
Kansas isn't the only state to consider limiting muni broadband. More than a dozen states have some sort of laws that restrict cities from building their own networks. But none of those restrictions are as sweeping as ones being contemplated in Kansas, according to Mitchell.
A state committee is scheduled to take up the bill next week.