New US Senate Bill could Protect NC Broadband

The wonderful website MuniWireless reports about a US Senate Bill called the Community Broadband Act of 2007.

The bill, the Community Broadband Act of 2007, protects consumers on two fronts: It prohibits states from adopting legislation, like the bill pending in North Carolina, which denies local governments the right to deploy municipal broadband projects; It also addresses the concerns of private providers by forbidding municipal providers from discriminating against private competition.

The bill also requires municipalities offering broadband services to comply with Federal telecommunications laws and regulations, just as private providers must do. It also encourages public-private partnerships and insists on public notification and hearings before a local government deploys a muni broadband system.

This Bill reminds me of legislation that was enacted to help rural communities install electricity service. In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration. In 1936 the Rural Electrification Act was created by Rep John E. Rankin and Sen. George William Norris. (source 1, source 2)

Check out this part about the REA from 1935:

The REA’s task was to promote electrification in rural areas, which in the 1930s rarely were provided with electricity due to the unwillingness of power companies to serve farmsteads. America lagged immensely behind European countries in the field of rural electrification. Private electricity utilities argued that the government had no right to compete with or regulate private enterprise, despite many of these utilities having refused to extend their lines to rural areas, claiming lack of potential profitability as the reason. The fact that private power companies set rural rates that were four times as high as city rates made this claim a self-fulfilling prophecy. Few farmers could afford the excessive power bills.[1] In fact, under the REA program, no direct government competition to private enterprise took place. Instead, REA made loans available to local electrification cooperatives, which operated the lines and distributed the electricity. By 1939 the REA served 288,000 households with electricity, prompting private business to extend their services into the countryside as well, and to lower their rates. By the end of the decade, forty percent of rural homes had power, up from around 10% in 1930.

Sound familiar? Just replace power company with broadband company. Here is what’s going on now. Local Broadband companies are unwilling to serve some areas, the US lags behind the rest of the world in the amount and quality of broadband service, Telcos complain that government should not compete with private enterprise, Telcos claim serving everyone isn’t profitable, and the high cost of mediocre broadband service could be reducing demand. All of this is happening in the 21st century.

One of the big difference I see between the legislation of 1930 and 2007 is the lack of funding of community broadband by the Federal government. My research on this particular point is not exhaustive but I don’t know of any large Federal program like the REA for local broadband coops. (please correct me) The Community Broadband Act of 2007 is a great start though. I hope it will allow us to spend more time creating networks instead of defending the right to build them.

The Community Broadband Act of 2007 [PDF]

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