Muni-Broadband Restrictions Defeated In Georgia

BroadbandGlobe-AALawmakers in Georgia shot down a controversial bill that would have prevented municipalities from building their own broadband networks.

The Municipal Broadband Investment Act (H.B. 282) would have prohibited cities from creating their own networks if residents already received service of at least 3 Mbps. That speed is slower than the 4 Mbps broadband definition used by the Federal Communications Commission.

On Thursday, Georgia's House of Representatives voted 94-70 against the measure.

The bill drew criticism from the Georgia Municipal Association, as well as from local officials in cities that had created their own fiber-optic networks. More than a dozen cities in Georgia recently built their own broadband networks.

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On a national level, FCC Julius Genachowski weighed in against the proposal, as did tech companies and consumer advocacy groups.

Google and other tech companies warned that the measure "would prevent public broadband providers from building the sorely needed advanced broadband infrastructure that will stimulate local businesses development, foster work force retraining, and boost employment in economically underachieving areas."

The incumbent Internet service provider Windstream had lobbied for the measure. A Windstream spokesperson tells Online Media Daily that the company believes "it's not good public policy to use taxpayer dollars to overbuild existing networks that were built with private capital." 

Some Georgia residents have complained that Windstream delivers speeds that are slower than advertised. State consumer protection authorities currently are investigating the company.

Windstream's spokesperson says the company is providing information to the state authorities. He adds that the carrier has seen a 200% growth in bandwidth in the last two years, resulting in slowdowns during peak hours. Windstream plans to spend $14 million this year to upgrade its network. "We're aware of the issue. We're on it," he says.

While the Georgia measure was defeated, 19 other states have passed laws that restrict cities from building their own networks. The advocacy group Free Press on Friday called for new federal laws to ensure that municipalities can continue to create fiber-to-the-home networks.

"Municipal broadband can provide better service at lower prices, and the phone and cable giants should stop strong-arming state legislators to prevent local communities from making that choice for themselves," Free Press Action Fund Policy Director Matt Wood stated. "The victory in Georgia should send a signal to Washington. The American people are ready for federal legislation that would keep broadband choices local and protect community broadband networks."

 

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