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"Level Playing Field" Padded With Public Dollars to Private Providers

Municipal broadband networks have been gaining traction across the country. It's easy to see why: In many rural and low-income communities, privately offered broadband services are nonexistent. In its 2012 Broadband Progress Report the Federal Communications Commission counted nearly 20 million Americans (the vast majority living in rural areas) beyond the reach of broadband.

The Free Press' Timothy Karr's words are supported by the growing number of pins on our Community Network Map. We connect with places nearly every day where municipal networks fill the cavernous gaps left by the massive corporations. Large cable and telecom providers do not hide their aversion to servicing rural areas, yet year after year their lobbying dollars persuade state politicians to introduce bills to stop the development of municipal networks. Karr reviewed recent efforts to use state laws to stifle community owned networks in a Huffington Post article.

As readers will recall, this year's front lines were in Atlanta, where HB 282 failed. We hope that loss may indicate a turning point in advancing municipal network barriers because the bill lost on a 94-70 vote with bipartisan opposition. If it had succeeded, Georgia would have been number 20 on a list of states that, thanks to ALEC and big corporate sponsors like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable, have decided to leave their citizenry begging for the private market to come their way.

Time and again, the supporting argument goes like this:

"A vote 'yes' for this bill means that you support free markets and free enterprise," [Rep Hamilton, the Chief Author of HB 282] said [on the House Floor].

A 'no' vote means that you want more federal dollars to prop up cities, Hamilton said.

But Karr points out that some policy makers are starting to question that argument, with good reason. From his article:

"They talk about [the companies] as if they are totally free market and free enterprise, but doesn't AT&T get some tax breaks?" [Rep. Debbie Buckner] asked. "Didn't Windstream get some stimulus money? Isn't that government money?"

Indeed, phone and cable companies have been on federal welfare since their inception. A 2011 Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy study shows AT&T and Verizon receiving more than $26 billion in tax subsidies from 2008 through 2010. The FCC's 2012 report on Universal Service Fund subsidies shows nearly $3 billion in federal payments to AT&T, Verizon and Windstream.

In 2010, Windstream, Corp. -- a telecommunications company with services across the South -- applied for $238 million in federal stimulus grants to improve its service in 16 states. More than 16 million taxpayer dollars went to upgrade the company's services in Georgia.

So, while AT&T, Verizon, and Windstream continue to work with legislators and lobbyists who advance bills that maintain an environment rife with corporate welfare, rural Americans get nothing for their contributions. As the word spreads and more people learn about the benefits of community networks, we anticipate more people will recognize their value. In addition to saving public dollars, increasing connectivity, and spurring economic development, local networks are accountable to the communities they serve, unlike the big corporate ISPs, who are accountable to shareholders.

"The private companies have not been there for us," said Rep. Buckner, who represents rural parts of Talbot and Meriwether Counties. "And if they say they're going to come and be there for us, we don't know how long it will take them to find us."

In Georgia, Tech City Opposed HB 282 With Official Resolution

We were happy to report when HB 282 failed to advance on the floor of the Georgia General Assembly House in a bipartisan vote. We were equally pleased to learn that at least one Georgia community passed an official resolution opposing the bill while it was making its way through the committee process. 

Alpharetta, an Atlanta suburb, is home to 57,000 people and calls itself the "Technology City of the South." The community has no municipal network and no current plans to invest in one, but nevertheless passed a resolution on February 25th which opposed HB 282.

A Bob Pepalis article on the decision quoted Councilman Jim Gilvin:

"Once again I think this is just a state legislator jumping into local business. And I appreciate their concerns, but we do a pretty good job around here, I think. And if residents don't think so, they will be more than happy to let us know," Gilvin said. "I'd appreciate it if they'd just let us handle our government."

Pepalis heard similar sentiments from Councilman Chris Owens via email

"This goes not only beyond local control, but also impacts our ability and other communities ability to be masters of our own destiny and influence on development as well as provides services to their constituents, both residential and commercial," Owens said. "If that's something in a community's best interests, who better to make that decision than a community rather than the state on behalf of the community."

First, the resolution [PDF] sums up the real world affects of the proposal, if it had passed:

WHEREAS, House Bill 282 would tie the hands of municipal officials in their efforts to build digital networks they need to attract economic development and create a high quality of life for their citizens; and

WHEREAS, House Bill 282 is a bill that would undermine self-determination of cities in the digital age as illustrated by the following:

  • Before a city could provide new high speed Internet, cable, telecom or broadband service, it would be required to:

-Receive the permission of the Public Service Commission; and

-Prove to the Public Service Commission that each census block the city wants to serve has no existing broadband service (Census blocks are the smallest geographic area the Census Bureau uses for data collection. There are 291,086 census blocks in Georgia).

  • Existing local government cable, high speed Internet, telecom and broadband providers would be subject to the following service area restrictions:

-A city would not be allowed to expand its network to provide service to any customers unless the customers have no existing broadband service, regardless of the speed; and

-The city would not be allowed to provide the service even within the city’s boundaries.

Alpharetta seal

The resolution also called out the bill's authors and supporters:

And WHEREAS House Bill 282 would reduce Georgia's competitiveness and ability to attract new jobs as illustrated by the following:

  • Many Georgia communities have slow or limited access to the Internet compared to regional and international peers. This Bill sends a strong state message to these areas – “we don’t care.”
  • This is an effort to “protect” profits for private companies and ignores the economic development challenges many communities face.
  • The final report of Governor Deal’s Competitiveness Initiative indicates that many parts of rural Georgia are at a disadvantage because of a lack of broadband service. House Bill 282 would limit the ability of communities to bridge the digital divide where private providers have decided those investments do not fit their business model.
  • While the proposed legislation purports to exclude “unserved” areas from its purview, the definition of “unserved” is so narrow that virtually no community would ever fall under the exception.

NOW, THEREFORE, the Mayor and Council hereby RESOLVE that the passage of House Bill 282 (Preemption on Municipal Broadband), as well as any similar legislation, is hereby opposed as not being in the best interest of the City of Alpharetta and other municipalities within the state; and IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that a copy of this Resolution be delivered to members of the City’s local delegation.

While resolutions like Alpharetta's are not the only contributing factor to a state bill success or failure, it is another tool in the toolbox for local leadership. In addition to raising awareness at the local level, official resolutions give state and federal leaders a clear indication of how their constituents feel about specific proposals, providing a hook for media to cover the larger story.

Moultrie City Manager Discusses Origins of CNS Network in Georgia for Community Broadband Bits Episode 39

Mike Scott, City Manager of Moultrie in Georgia, joins us for Episode #39 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast to share the origins of the Community Network Services (CNS) network that joins four towns in four counties in rural southwest Georgia.

In this interview, Mike Scott shares some of the benefits of the network for local schools and community savings. Built originally because the existing cable and telephone companies would not invest in their communities, CNS has proved itself an incredibly valuable community investment.

CNS is credited with creating over 6,000 jobs in the communities it serves, a tremendous boon for the communities that joined together to create this network. During our interview (below), we note a video they created to show off some of the benefits of this network. Here it is:

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show - please e-mail us or leave a comment below. Also, feel free to suggest other guests, topics, or questions you want us to address.

This show is 20 minutes long and can be played below on this page or subscribe via iTunes or via the tool of your choice using this feed. Search for us in iTunes and leave a positive comment!

Listen to previous episodes here. You can can download this Mp3 file directly from here.

Thanks to D. Charles Speer & the Helix for the music, licensed using Creative Commons.

In Georgia, Monroe Muni Network Created Jobs, Lowered Bills

As we monitored Georgia's HB 282, a bill to limit the capacity of local governments to invest in Internet networks that spur economic development, we learned of many existing networks that have helped communities to thrive.

Brian Thompson, Director of Electric and Telecommunications in Monroe took some time to tell us a little about their city network.  Located in the north central section of Georgia, with a population of 13,000, the network now offers triple play services to residents and businesses. Its network started in the 1970s with a municipal cable tv network. Today, the network is a hybrid with fiber having been added as an expansion to its cable network.

Monroe's investment in its fiber began as a way to improve connections for education. The Walton County School District could not find a private provider willing to collaborate on an affordable network between school facilities. The city took on the challenge and built a point-to-point network which the School District paid for in 10 years. In the mean time, the city expanded its network in other areas. Now, the Walton County Schools have gig service between facilities and to the Internet. The District pays only $500 per month for a service that would cost five times more from a private provider.

Thompson also confirmed what we hear from other communities with publicly owned networks - prices for business and residential services are very competitive and service is superior. He notes that customers often express appreciation for local representatives, rather than dealing with a huge bureaucracy like those at Verizon or AT&T. New connections can be created in a matter of hours or days instead of weeks.

Residential service for Internet access from MonroeAccess.Net includes affordable basic service (1 Mbps / 256 Kbps) for $21.95 per month. Two faster tiers include $34.95 (6 Mbps / 512 Kbps) and $44.95 (15 Mbps / 1 Mbps). Cable tv rates vary from $15.50 to $62.95 per month and residential phone service starts at $29.95 per month. Thompson notes that, when Monroe added phone service, rates dropped for every one regardless of carrier. 

There are over 100 fiber customers and the network has been critical for economic security. T1 connections for businesses used to go for $1,000 per month; now higher capacity connections cost $250. Notable customers include Minerva, a beauty salon supplier with a large showroom and distribution center in Minerva. The multi-million dollar salon equipment company has headquarters in China but has nearly 30,000 customers in the U.S. Company owners required a fiber connection to communicate with the facility in real time. Monroe was happy to oblige.

Hitachi Logo

Monroe is also home to a Hitachi plant that makes parts for several auto companies. The fiber network allows the plant to communicate efficiently with the Hitachi headquarters located in Harrodsburg, Kentucky. The plant employs about 250 people.

Monroe never borrowed or bonded to build out its network. Thompson tells us the network has always progressed slowly and community leaders leverage partnerships with local interests along the way. The city used its capital investment fund for initial construction and continues to expand slowly with revenue obtained from offering services. Thompson tells us that their approach works for Monroe and shudders at the thought of legislators in Atlanta claiming otherwise.

Monroe's network travels well outside the city limits, over a nine county area, and HB 282 could have put an end to its expansion. Fortunately the bill was defeated on the House floor and for at least one more year, this community does not have to worry that the state will revoke its power to encourage economic development locally.

Democracy Now! Segment on Community Owned Networks

Last week, Catharine Rice and I were guests on a Democracy Now! segment filmed at the Freedom to Connect conference. We discussed what community broadband is, how it has benefited communities, and how a few big cable and telephone companies are trying to stop it.

PR Watch Ties ALEC to Now-Dead Bill in Georgia to Limit Internet Investment

Brendan Fischer of the Center for Media and Democracy's PR Watch examines the ties between HB 282, the people behind it, and how it evolved into a threat to connectivity and local control. Brendan gave us permission to repost the story in full here. Since authoring this story, HB 282 was defeated in Georgia in a floor House vote. However, understanding where these bill comes from is critical, so we still wanted to run this piece.

Community-Owned Internet, Long Targeted by ALEC and Big Telecom, Under Fire in Georgia

Members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in the Georgia Legislature are pushing a bill to thwart locally-owned internet in underserved communities, an industry-sponsored effort that effectively reinforces the digital divide. A vote in the Georgia Assembly is scheduled for Thursday, March 7; if Georgia passes the bill it would be the twentieth state to eliminate community control over internet access.

Rural and Poor Communities Take Control of Internet

As many as one in ten Americans cannot get internet connections that are fast enough for basic activities like streaming video or file sharing, largely because big internet providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable have refused to provide adequate service to communities where the population is too dispersed or too poor. As local economies become ever more dependent on internet access, though, this digital divide is leaving rural and low-income communities in the dust.

But local governments in places like Wilson, North Carolina and Thomasville, Georgia have taken matters into their own hands: they've built publicly owned high-speed internet to keep their communities viable in the 21st Century. These efforts have created jobs and helped save local economies, with businesses that rely on digital communication remaining in, or relocating to, the newly wired communities. 

Competition from these locally owned providers has irritated the big "incumbent" internet companies, which had managed to put-off upgrading their networks because of near-monopoly power in many areas. Municipal broadband -- which in many cases offers faster internet at a lower price -- "forces companies to invest in their own infrastructure because communities are doing it better," says Catharine Rice, President of the SouthEast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA).

PR Watch Logo

Instead of responding to competition with improved services, the industry has responded by pushing a raft of bills to crush community and local broadband.

"It is cheaper to hire a lobbyist and push a bill than invest in infrastructure," Rice told the Center for Media and Democracy. 

Georgia's HB 282 would prohibit cities from offering broadband to areas where just one home in a census block has internet speed above 3 Mbps. But 3Mbps is exceptionally slow. Businesses would likely be unable to upload a powerpoint presentation, doctors could not do medical file sharing or remote diagnosis, students could not access virtual education, and users could not access video on demand -- all of which is important for rural areas to remain competitive with the rest of the country, not to mention the world.

If Georgia passes the legislation it would be the twentieth state to preempt local efforts to offer broadband. The spread of these bills can be traced back to ALEC and its "model" Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards ActThree of the five named sponsors of Georgia’s HB 282 are ALEC members. 

ALEC Bill Passed in 19 States

Since at least 2001 ALEC has been a conduit for internet providers like AT&T and Time Warner Cable to eliminate competition. As Bloomberg Business Week has described, the bill that became the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act was largely drafted by AT&T and other big internet providers, and was first passed in Utah in 2001, after the city of Provo created a municipal broadband system. The following summer, the bill was brought to ALEC’s Annual Meeting in Orlando and adopted as a “model” by the ALEC Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force.

Since becoming a model bill, the Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act has spread across the country. Nineteen states now have restrictive municipal broadband bills on the books, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

Wilson Greenlight Report

It passed most recently in North Carolina, where the exceptionally successful “Greenlight” program in Wilson had prompted incumbent internet providers like AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner Cable to push the legislation starting in 2006. The bill had failed in previous sessions, but after control of the legislature shifted to Republicans in the 2010 elections and big telecom providers gave nearly $1.6 million in campaign contributions to North Carolina legislators over a five-year period, it finally became law in 2011.

In addition to campaign contributions and payments to ALEC, big internet providers have influenced legislators with valuable gifts. For example, AT&T was the second-highest contributor to the ALEC “scholarship” fund that pays for legislators’ flights and hotel rooms to ALEC meetings – a scheme that creates an environment for improper influence and would appear to violate many states’ ethics and lobbying laws. ALEC meetings are often held in fun cities like New Orleans and at swank hotels, and because state legislators earn, on average, about $46,000 a year, these destinations and resorts would otherwise be unaffordable. 

Nationally, AT&T gave $90,000 to the scholarship fund over a three-year period (2006-2008, the only years for which complete information is available). The legislators who are sponsoring the current bill before the Georgia legislature are major recipients of ALEC scholarships. Bill sponsor Representative Don Parsons, who is an active member of the ALEC Telecommunications & Information Technology Task Force, received $5735.48 over those three years, and Representative Ben Harbin received $3546.08 over two years. HB 282 sponsor Representative Mark Hamilton received $3527.80 in "scholarships" in 2008 alone. 

As a further incentive to attend ALEC meetings, elected officials are encouraged to bring their families and offered subsidized childcare and activities for kids six months and older, which they call "Kid's Congress." Time Warner Cable sponsored "Kid's Congress" at ALEC's 2011 Annual Meeting. At the April 2011 meeting, Time Warner Cable invited legislators to an exclusive party box at a Cincinnatti Reds baseball game, with food and drink provided.

If a lobbyist wants to contact a legislator within a state and make their views known, they have their ear for perhaps 15 minutes. They also have to register and report the time and expenditures. But through ALEC, corporate interests can access legislators for three days of meetings, workshops, and parties, where elected officials are basically a captive audience -- and where they know who is footing the bill.

2012 Bill Defeated, Thanks to Business Opposition

Georgia first saw anti-municipal broadband legislation in 2012. That bill was introduced by then-Senator Chip Rogers (R), who was the ALEC State Chair for Georgia (until his retirement in December) and the winner of the 2011 “State Chair of the Year” award.

Oppose SB 313

Sen. Rogers' bill was nearly a word-for-word duplication of what had passed in North Carolina. The bill had the support of the Georgia chapter of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, says Lou Comer, Director of Local Government Services at the Georgia Municipal Association, but Georgia businesses rallied against it.  

Municipalities reached out to businesses in their communities, who then contacted their legislators to express opposition to the bill. "The businesses made it clear that 'we are getting good service'," Comer said. If municipal broadband were eliminated these companies would have no choice but to return to the high-cost, low-speed internet offered by the incumbent providers, she said.

The big internet providers framed their opposition to municipal broadband in free market terms: the public sector interfering with the private sector, and taxpayer money being "wasted" because municipal projects supposedly are unsuccessful -- the notion that private industry always does things better than government. 

SEATOA's Rice doubts their motives. "Do these multi-billion dollar companies really care about community tax payers?" No, she says: "They care about their bottom line and profit margins."

If, as the industry alleges, municipal broadband projects are going to fail, the incumbent providers would have nothing to worry about. But according to Rice, "they are pushing these laws because they know [municipal broadband projects] don’t fail."

Thomasville, Georgia, for example, built its broadband 14 years ago and has been so successful that local officials have actually eliminated property taxes. Contrary to the industry claim that these projects cost taxpayers money, residents in this community are actually paying less tax.

Municipalities are "all about the private sector because we need them for economic development,” said the Georgia Municipal Association's Comer, noting that many of the rural communities that have built municipal broadband are solidly Republican.

"If the private sector would have come in and provided these services, [the municipalities] never would have needed to build their broadband projects," she said. "They had to do it to save their communities."

Oppose HB 282

Georgia Bill is Back

Georgia's legislation may have been defeated in 2012 but a version is back again in 2013. 

“We are not second class citizens because we decided to live in rural Georgia,” said Elberton, Georgia Mayor Larry Guest in testimony opposing the legislation.

“Georgia should be promoting a pro-business, inclusive approach to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas of the state,” he said.

The bill is again being opposed by businesses in the state, as well as tech companies like Google and Alcatel-Lucent, who argue that the private sector alone cannot build the nation's public infrastructure. Their letter to Rep. Bill Parsons also notes the recent goal outlined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to offer one gigabit access nationwide by 2015.

HB282 has been modified from the 2012 version to exempt some existing broadband projects -- perhaps to neuter opposition from businesses already benefitting from municipal broadband -- but it still creates onerous burdens and thwarts new projects, perhaps even including those already underway. 

"Other Georgia cities deserve the right to do what Elberton did, and their residents deserve the services Cumming has,” Mayor Guest said, referring to two communities that have municipal broadband projects.

“Competition ensures market-based pricing and faster delivery of state-of-the-art services. We have to do everything we can to attract jobs. If we don’t do that, business will not select rural Georgia. High speed access is essential to us.”

A vote on the bill is scheduled for Thursday, March 7.  

If you live in Georgia, you can send a letter to your representative from the Color of Change website urging the defeat of HB 282. 

Georgia Bill to Limit Internet Investment Dies on House Floor

We've been writing about Georgia's HB 282 for weeks, discussing the likely impact from limiting who can build Internet networks in communities that have the most basic Internet connections.

When the bill finally hit the House Floor, it failed in a bipartisan vote of 70 ayes to 94 nays. Many groups helped to educate the public and make sure many were informed about this legislation as it made its way through the Georgia House. Our full coverage of it is here.

Yesterday, CBS Atlanta ran another segment on this story, noting the overblown promises Windstream was making despite being unable to fulfill them (video below).

We will be running more stories on Georgia as we continue to cover the grassroots effort to protect local authority over this matter and continue to educate elected officials about community owned networks.

This is the second year in a row we saw Georgia consider a bill to limit local authority in this matter and we expect to see it again. We hope people in all 50 states are taking some time to tell their elected officials what they think about their access to the Internet and making sure that whenever a decision is made, it be made by the community without unnecessary barriers imposed by states or Washington, DC.

CBS Atlanta 46

CBS Atlanta Asks Tough Questions of Georgia Anti-Community Broadband Bill

We finally see television news outlets asking the tough questions of bill pushed by powerful cable and telephone companies to prevent giving residents a real choice in cable and Internet service providers. We been covering this Georgia bill closely, and were glad to see this segment:

CBS Atlanta 46

The segment makes an error in suggesting that tax dollars are commonly used by local governments in building networks. They are not. Most municipal networks are built using revenue bonds, where the community does not pledge its full faith and credit. Instead, they sell bonds to private investors who are then repaid by the revenues generated by the network.

But this mistake is more than outweighed with the reveal at end of the video, that the municipal network in Thomasville allowed the city to drop its local property entirely. Yet another community benefiting tremendously from owning its own network.

The Monopoly Magnate Helps Big Cable to Ban Community Networks in Georgia

We continue tracking the progress of Georgia's HB 282, a bill to limit investment in Internet networks. The bill basically says that if some people in a community have access to 3 Mbps (moderately slow DSL) connections, the community cannot invest in its own advanced networks - even to connect just local businesses that would spur job growth. This bill could be discussed on the Georgia House Floor any day. If it passes there, the Senate will take it up.

However, even if we can kill it this year, we can expect to see the big companies raise it again next year. It got us to wondering how anyone could consider this a good idea ...

Monopoly Magnate Comic

Feel free to share this comic, but link back to this page where possible. This link makes it easy to Share or Like on Facebook.

Read all of our coverage of this bill using this tag: HB 282 2013

If you want to stay up to date on these issues more generally, sign up for our one-email-per-week list of recent stories about community owned networks.

We previously created a comic about the Comcast astroturf campaign in Longmont, Colorado.

Feel free to share this video below with those who may not be aware why some communities have decided to build their own networks.

Video: 
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Community Leaders Testify Against HB 282, Bill Passes Anyway

Community leaders from several Georgia cities made the trek to Atlanta to oppose HB 282 on Thursday, February 28th. Opposition to this bill to limit investment in Internet networks includes community leaders, high tech companies, and citizens all over the state. Nevertheless, legislators on the House Energy, Utilities, and Telecom Committee chose to ignore the needs of communities, prefering to tell them from afar how to run their towns. Winners? Incumbents Windstream, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Comcast.

A substitute bill [PDF] was introduced that exempts communities with municipal electric utilities from the prohibtion to provide telecommunications. Additionally, the bill's definition of "broadband service" is now defined as service equal to or greater than 3.0 Mbps. "in the faster direction." While these look like compromises at first blush, they do very little to change the real world application of the bill.

Our earlier analysis of the bill addressed the fact that the expense and time required  to prove locations of unserved areas as defined by the bill, would foreclose the possibility of communities making investments in this essential infrastructure. Likewise, communities that already have networks would be similarly burdened.

While the muni electric exemption is clearly aimed at cities that might oppose the bill, community leaders from some of those target cities strongly spoke out against the revised HB 282. Elberton, Thomasville, and LaGrange, are a few of the communities who sent representatives and all know the power of their community owned networks. Concerned citizens who see the negative impact of this bill also showed up to speak their minds.

Mayors from Elberton and Thomasville testified along with the Elberton and LaGrange City Managers. The Georgia Municipal Association, spearheading the effort against the bill, covered the meeting for their blog.

City of Elberton Seal

City leaders expressed dismay over the bill and described how it would affect their own communities and rural Georgia. Here are some highlights:

"Let’s talk about economic development,” said Elberton Mayor Larry Guest. “Georgia should be promoting a pro-business, inclusive approach to broadband deployment, especially in rural areas of the state,” he said. “Competition ensures market-based pricing and faster delivery of state-of-the-art services. We have to do everything we can to attract jobs. If we don’t do that, business will not select rural Georgia. High speed access is essential to us."

When the bills author pressed the fact that the original bill had been amended to exempt cities that provide electric service, Mayor Guest responded:

"Other Georgia cities deserve the right to do what Elberton did, and their residents deserve the services Cumming has,” said Guest. “We are not second class citizens because we decided to live in rural Georgia.”

(The bill's chief author, Republican Rep. Mark Hamilton, represents a district that encompasses Cumming.)

Economic development was a big concern for community leaders:

“The concern that I have is the underserved areas around us,” said Thomasville Mayor Max Beverly. He noted that the bill prohibits cities from investing in, or expanding current broadband services, if any commercial carrier offers 3.0 Mbps where the city wants to offer that service.

“Three megabits is not adequate to do functions in a modern telecommunications world,” Beverly said. Beverly explained that Thomasville is preparing for its customers to use 20 megabits of bandwidth per second. “We are expecting the demand on bandwidth to double in the next five years and this bill does not address that,” he said. “There is going to be bandwidth inflation. Please consider the rest of rural Georgia.”

Residents also showed up to testify, driving home that fact that this issue is not only about business customers. A citizen from Dawsonville also spoke at the meeting:

"I am fighting to get the service I am paying for,” he said, adding that the company took federal stimulus money—$181.3 million according to the company’s 10K filed with the FCC—to invest in their infrastructure but he has not benefitted from any so-called investment.

“I want competition,” he said. “If my city wants to give [the private sector] some competition, I am worried that this bill would prevent my city from doing that.”

LaGrange, Georgia

Tom Hall, City Manager from LaGrange, summed up the potential power of HB 282:

LaGrange City Manager Tom Hall said the bill has the effect of picking winners and losers, “not only communities but whether businesses will have choices. You are throwing up barriers to communities to not be able to make choices in the best interest of their community and that is not necessarily wise public policy.”

A word about the process: The House Energy, Utilities & Telecommunications subcommittee met on Wednesday to discuss the bill and to listen to this testimony but did not take any action. The next day, Thursday, the subcommittee met again without testifiers and passed the bill. Later that same day, the full committee also met and passed the bill, again without the benefit of testifiers. The bill is now in the House Rules Committee, which will determine whether or not it will be voted on by the House. If the entire House votes on the bill on or before the 30th day of session (a day which has not yet been designated), and it passes, it will be sent to the Senate for consideration.

We continue to monitor this bill and to urge you to contact the Rules Committee (Committe Roster here). Tell them this bill is a bad idea and should not move to the House Floor. Policies like this, designed to take away rights from local communities to provide for their local residents, businesses, and government, are bad for Georgians and bad for the rest of us.