AT&T donates $62.5K to Missouri lawmakers ahead of anti-muni broadband bill's passage

AT&T (NYSE: T) in the past few months donated over $62,000 to Missouri lawmakers who just passed a bill designed to put a cap on municipal broadband expansions.

Under a new bill approved by a Missouri legislative committee last week, the state will be able to limit cities and towns from building broadband networks, taking out potential challengers to the incumbent position enjoyed by AT&T, CenturyLink (NYSE: CTL) and Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA).

An ars technica report revealed that a few months before lawmakers made their vote, AT&T donated a total of $62,500 to political committees in Missouri. Included in this figure was $20,000 to the House Republican Campaign Committee, $20,000 to the Missouri Democratic State Committee, $7,500 to the Missouri Republican Party, and $15,000 to the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee.

According to a listing in the the Missouri Ethics Commission, one of the donations was made only two weeks ago. However, arstechnica was told it was actually made in September 2015 and not deposited until this February because the original check was lost.

AT&T said that it will not make contributions during legislative sessions. However, the telco gave similar amounts to the Missouri House Utility Infrastructure committee.

The anti-municipal broadband bill known HB 2078 was introduced in January and was approved by a 16-2 vote on Feb. 18.

"We believe that if a governmental entity seeks to deploy or operate a GON [government operated network] in a market that can be served by the private sector, there should be safeguards in place to ensure a 'level playing field,' which is why we expressed support for HB 2078," AT&T told ars technica.

Missouri is just one state where AT&T has actively protested municipal broadband. Joined by cable operator Comcast, AT&T led the opposition to a proposed bill in Nashville that could enable municipal broadband providers like Chattanooga-based EPB to expand their gigabit fiber-based broadband services into other parts of the state where broadband service does not exist.

Besides AT&T, CenturyLink continues to be active on the anti-municipal broadband front, contributing $6,000 to the Missouri Senate Campaign Committee in November 2015. In 2014, the telco opposed a municipal broadband network in Columbia, Mo.

Today, 20 states currently have laws on the books that limit municipalities from delivering broadband services. The FCC voted along party lines to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee last year that prevent municipal providers from expanding service outside of a designated area.

Although both states filed lawsuits challenging the FCC's authority, a federal appeals court could drive other cities and towns to petition the FCC to preempt similar laws if the court rules in the regulator's favor.

For more:
- ars technica has this article

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