Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Wireless bills to be heard today (updated)

Update: The wireless bills were not heard today after all. Instead the franchise bill appeared on the calendar right at 9:00 and was heard first. It passed out of committee by a vote of 13 to 9 if I heard my jerky video stream correctly.

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Two wireless bills sponsored by LaFonta of New Orleans are going to be heard today in the house commerce committe hearing today that starts at 9:00. The agenda shows them somewhere in the middle of day's business.

These bills, HB 1174 and HB 1188 would allow Louisiana's local governments to build wireless networks which would be illegal under the regime established by Local Government (un)Fair Competition Act. That act, BellSouth and Cox's response Lafayette's fiber plan, had the draconian and perhaps unanticipated effect of making it illegal for New Orleans to use its wireless security network to provide free wifi access to its citizens in the post-Katrina era. New Orleans went ahead and did it anyway, despite continued opposition from BellSouth, but it can only continue to do so as long as a state of emergency stays in place.

That (un)Fair competiton act is bad legislation all around and Lafayette was leading a fight for its repeal when it cut a deal to withdraw its bills in return for BellSouth and Cox withdrawing a lawsuit that would have further blocked the city issueing bonds to support the fiber plan ratified by last July's referendum.

With Lafayette's bills gone New Orleans has moved on more limited bills which would exempt all wireless networks from the restrictions of the (un) Fair Act.

New Orleans deserves support--particularly from Lafayette residents who both understand what its like to have the big boys breathing down your neck while you try to do the right thing. People statewide need to understand that New Orleans difficulties are only the needed excuse to strike this portion of a bad law that limits the rights of citizens in Louisiana to do what other communities across the country are doing right now.

Wireless municipal networks are spreading like wildfire with cities from Philadelphia to San Francisco adopting city-wide plans. Louisiana does not want to be shut out. Earthlink, who has promised 10-15 million dollars in new investment to expand New Orleans system, is a major player in many of these plans and has proposed an extraordinarily generous system for New Orleans--if its planned system can be made legal. For the legislature to pass laws that destroy the possibility of such investment is revealed as the height of foolishness in the wake of last years hurricanes.

Louisiana does not need its legislature to continue to rubber-stamp the desires of a handful of out of state telecom corporations whose self-interest is unrestrained by an sense of fair play or decency in the wake of Katrina.

If you'd like to see how this hearing goes you can watch it on streaming video--this is real reality TV. You can link to video stream a few minutes before nine from the legislative front page. If you can catch the first few minutes of the session the when changes to the agenda are being announced you'll have a better sense of when the fun parts will start.

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