Michigan Mulls New Restrictions On Muni-Broadband

A Republican lawmaker in Michigan has introduced a bill that would hinder local towns from building their own broadband networks.

House Bill 5099, unveiled last week by Michigan House of Representatives member Michele Hoitenga, bans towns and cities from using any public funds to create new broadband networks. But the measure also allows localities to partner with broadband service providers in some circumstances.

The advocacy group Institute for Local Self-Reliance panned the proposed bill, writing that it would probably cause local community leaders "to avoid pursuing any publicly owned infrastructure initiatives."



Hoitenga said on Twitter Wednesday that the bill will be amended. "This bill was presented to get the much needed conversation going," she said in a tweet. She added that she's "a big proponent" of broadband expansion.

Michigan already imposes some obstacles to municipal broadband, according to Christopher Mitchell, director of the Institute for Self Reliance's Community Broadband Networks Initiative. He says a 2005 Michigan law requires local communities that want to create networks to first issue requests for proposals. The towns can only move forward with investments if there are fewer than three bids. Despite that law, several cities have recently moved forward in Michigan.

Around 20 states have laws that limit local towns and cities from creating their own muni-broadband networks. Many of those laws were lobbied for by cable companies and telecoms, and passed by lawmakers who were "focused more on limiting investment in these much needed networks than in encouraging it," says Mitchell, a well-known critic of state restrictions on muni-broadband.

Last year, a federal appellate court reversed a Federal Communications Commission order aimed at encouraging muni-broadband. The court ruled that the FCC lacked authority for its order, which would have invalidated state laws hindering muni-broadband networks.

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