Missouri joins the anti-municipal broadband chorus with proposed bill

Missouri has become the latest state to jump on the anti-municipal broadband bandwagon with the introduction of a new bill that would create barriers for local towns and cities that want to build their own broadband networks.

Led by Missouri Republican state Rep. Rocky Miller, House Bill 437 bars communities from offering their own services even if the local cable or telco incumbent provides inferior services.

Although the bill does not specifically focus on broadband, it looks like it does target Internet services.

Miller's bill includes a provision that would require a town or city to make a majority vote to offer a "competitive service." If residents voted to build a community network, the municipality would not be able to use the revenue from other services like water and sewer to pay for the buildout of the network and services, which would create a challenge in being able to pay for the initial construction costs to extend services to homes and businesses.

However, the bill does allow local municipalities to offer broadband without having to vote on it if no other traditional service providers are preset or if the service has a financial impact of less than $100,000. The bill also excludes cities and towns that currently offer broadband services.   

"This bill is about fairness," Miller said, according to a report in Ars Technica. "This bill is meant to even the playing field and eliminate socialized/non-commercial services provided by municipalities. I simply want to vote to allow for my city to provide a service if that service is already being provided by another company. Also this bill eliminates subsidizing city provided services and does not allow unfair competition. However, at the end of the day, municipalities can provide these services as long as their constituents want them to."

Missouri is just one of several states that have either proposed laws or have laws in place restricting the buildout of municipal broadband networks. There are currently about 19 states that have anti-municipal broadband laws on the books.

The emergence of the Missouri bill comes as President Barack Obama yesterday visited Cedar Falls, Iowa, a town that has been delivering 1 Gbps data services over its own fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network. Obama delivered a speech protesting anti-municipal broadband laws. Like FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, Obama is also keen on finding ways to overturn the existing laws prohibiting municipally owned broadband networks.  

At the same time, the White House issued a report outlining community-based broadband solutions and how consumers can benefit from local competition.

For more:
- Community Broadband Networks has this post
- Ars Technica has this article

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