New bill would aid municipal broadband nets

Sen. Frank Lautenberg

Congress has been duking it out over the issue of municipal public networks with two bills, each designed to cancel out the other. One bill is designed to promote public telecom or networking services offered by local governments such as municipally sponsored WiFi programs; the other seeks to prohibit such services.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) last month introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2005 (S 1294). The bill is in response to the Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005 (HR 2726), which was introduced in the House by Texas Republican Pete Sessions.

The Lautenberg-McCain bill would limit the efforts some states are making to block local communities from providing broadband access to citizens. Fourteen states have enacted barriers to establishing municipal wireless programs.

Under the act, no state would be able to stop a municipality from offering broadband to its citizens. But when a municipality is a provider, it wouldn't be permitted to use its authority to discriminate against private competitors.

Sessions' bill, by contrast, would prohibit state and local governments from offering any public telecom or networking services in competition with private companies.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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