National attention on GA HB 282 against muni broadband: needs GA leg. to vote it down

Another bad idea from ALEC already passed in SC and NC and is now in the GA legislature, getting coverage in several national technical and political blogs: HB 282, which would effectively forbid municipal broadband if any commercial carrier offers 1.5Mbps. It's up for a hearing this week: time to call your state rep.

Timothy B. Lee wrote for ArsTechnica 14 Feb 2013, Bill would ban muni broadband if one home in census tract gets 1.5Mbps: Approach could leave some Georgia residents without a viable broadband option.

Incumbent broadband providers are pushing legislation that would restrict Georgia towns from building municipal broadband networks. Under the proposal, if a single home in a census tract has Internet access at speeds of 1.5Mbps or above, the town would be prohibited from offering broadband service to anyone in that tract.

State-level restrictions on municipal broadband networks are

not a new idea. Last year the South Carolina legislature passed a similar proposal with the support of AT&T. North Carolina passed similar legislation in 2011. The idea has been shot down in Indiana and a number of other states.

Municipal broadband opponents tried and failed to ban towns from building broadband networks in Georgia last year. But their case wasn't helped when AT&T's CEO said in a conference call: "We're looking at rural America and asking, what's the broadband solution? We don't have one right now."

Hey, AT&T: you can't even keep 3Mbps DSL working! But Verizon has 4G LTE that does about 11Mbps down and 7Mbps up in Lowndes County. You supposedly have 4G LTE nationwide, too, AT&T, so stop the disingeneousness, please. You know how to do rural broadband: wirelessly. But let’s hear what arguments you have not to do it:

The argument against municipal broadband networks is straightforward: in a free-market economy, private companies, not the government, should build broadband networks. That argument makes sense in areas with healthy broadband competition. There's no reason for the government to get involved if the private sector is already getting the job done.

We have almost no areas in this country with healthy Internet access competition: we have mostly the telco or the cableco, aka the duopoly. That's why the U.S. has fallen from near the top in broadband speeds and uptake to hardly high enough to count as a developed country, and most anything qualifying as real broadband costs so much many people can't afford it. Meanwhile, in Japan, Korea, Latvia, Finland, Moldova, Sweden, France, and Netherlands, you can get 9 to 100 Mbps for around $30/month. For sheer speed, Korea, France, Sweden, Finland, and Japan all have way faster Internet access speeds than the U.S., and in the U.S. over 100 million people have no Internet access at all. That's a serious problem for finding a job, turning in homework, or getting informed about local or state or national politics. As Susan Crawford puts it, we've become a captive audience. The problem is so bad that Masayoshi Son's Softbank just bought a controling share in Sprint to do something about it.

If a local government wants to do something about this by starting fast local Internnet access, so far in Georgia there's no law against it. That's what ALEC wants to change.

ALEC brags about disliking municipal broadband:

There is no question that broadband will become as ubiquitous as the traditional household utilities.

But does it deserve the same classification as water & sewer, roadways, or school systems, in being provided by the government?

A growing number of municipalities are answering “yes” by building their own networks and offering broadband services to their citizens. ALEC disagrees with their answer due to the negative impacts it has on free markets and limited government. In addition, such projects could erode consumer choice by making markets less attractive to competition because of the government's expanded role as a service provider.

There is no real market in fast Internet access. And adding a law to prevent local governments from providing Internet service isn't limited government.

Back to the ArsTechnical article:

Banning muni fiber only in areas that already have some service is less draconian than banning municipal networks state-wide, but it could still leave residents of certain areas stranded without service. The threshold the bill sets as the minimum acceptable broadband speed, 1.5Mbps, is even lower than the 4Mbps level the FCC defines as the minimum broadband speed. And obviously, the fact that some people in a census tract have service doesn't mean that everyone does.

Using census tracts is a slight variation on the old trick of saying that if one ZIP code has DSL that counts for the whole ZIP code.

Moreover, limiting which parts of town a municipal fiber network can serve might make it impossible for that town to cost-effectively reach under-served sections with broadband service. It's often more cost-effective to deploy fiber to an entire town than to deploy fiber selectively to only certain parts of town. The neighborhoods being served by an incumbent are likely to be the wealthiest and densest parts of town. Banning towns from deploying fiber to those parts of town may make it impossible to cover the fixed costs of a municipal fiber project.

Fiber is a popular choice (see Chattanooga), but instead maybe provide city- or county- or MSA-wide 4G LTE service.

Fortunately, there is resistance from rural towns. I hear even Valdosta is fighting this one in the legislature.

Which is good, because it's up for a hearing this week; maybe today.

As Brian Wallace wrote for the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) 12 February 2013, A Narrow Minded Approach to Broadband,

Adel is a perfect example of local leaders taking action to meet the needs of their community. And why should the state get into the business of limiting that?

See also this NBC TV report on Thomasville.

Thomasville, where I hear a couple of companies moved their IT operations from Valdosta because they could get broadband in Thomasville.

The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), while it has taken an interest in broadband in the past, appears to have no position yet on HB 282, and I've heard nothing about the Lowndes County government taking a position.

Amy Henderson of GMA summed it up:

Broadband is economic development.