Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Momentum Shifts to the Munis

A story found at Yahoo today, Internet Providers And Their Lobbyists Losing Momentum Vs. City Wi-Fi Plans,
tells this year's tale incumbent-sponsored attempts to restrict or ban municipal broadband networks. The wave appears to have crested:
In 2005, 11 states agreed with the phone and cable firms, and passed laws that made it tougher for cities to float broadband initiatives. Lawmakers aimed to prevent serious competition and stop the nascent muni Wi-Fi movement. The phone and cable firms incumbents also sued to stop city network rollouts...

"In 2005, there was a strong wind in state legislatures to restrict the municipalities, but we have not seen anything like that this year," said John Logan, a telecom attorney who worked for Federal Communications Commission for most of the 1990s.

No such state, or federal, laws have been enacted this year. A few have been proposed, but were defeated. The general mood in Congress is to let cities do what they want, Logan says. Bills being crafted in Congress would overturn restrictions states put on muni Wi-Fi, he says. "People are saying this is a good idea," Logan said. "The technology is so powerful that it's winning the day."

Of course, this year beating down municipalities over the provision of utility broadband, video, and voice wasn't the top priority for the teleco companies. Instead, beating down the municipalities over the issue franchise fees and build-out provisions was the order of the day. The telecos had pretty good success with that cause de jour. (Even if Governor Blanco did have to come to our rescue.) So don't count the Teleco's out. They are still getting much of what they ask for. On the other hand, the last two years they have spent a lot of political capital, particularly that of the baby bells. Most municipalities are now suspicious of any state activity by telecos that impinge on local concerns--and they've slowly gotten active at the state level. Some have even begun to lobby at the federal level. Once in play the heft of municipal organizations should not be underestimated.
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Lagniappe quote on the silliness of incumbents claiming to be looking out for the interests of the public in their defense of their monopolies:
And it's not as if industry opposes government intervention in other private-sector areas, others note.

"The last time I checked, I didn't see them screaming about tax dollars being used to build football stadiums," said Jonathan Baltuch, president of the consulting firm MRI.

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