Georgia Law Would Ban Public Broadband Service If Just One Person Has So-So Internet Access

A number of municipalities around the country, especially in rural areas, are considering public broadband networks as a way to spur development and enterprise. Yet legislators keep drafting laws intended to keep some citizens in the stone age — at least until the telecoms get around to building private networks.

The ludicrously titled “Municipal Broadband Investment Act” in Georgia first states that it’s purpose is to “allow for public providers of broadband service to provide such services in unserved areas,” which sounds great. The nation’s rural communities are drastically underserved in terms of broadband access.

But only a few words later, the real purpose of the bill becomes apparent: “to prohibit a public provider from providing broadband service to areas that are not unserved areas unless such provider is providing such broadband service as of a date certain.”

Now it might make sense for lawmakers to not want municipalities investing time and money in a network when residents in that area are already served, but it’s the bill’s definitions of “unserved areas” and “broadband service” that is distressing:

“‘Unserved area’ means a census block for which the most recent National Broadband Map shows no broadband service is available.”

“‘Broadband service’ means Internet access service with transmission speeds that are equal to or greater than 1.5 megabits per second in the faster direction.”

So if a single person in a census block has a meager 1.5 mbps downstream connection, that proposed law says that the block can not receive public broadband unless the public network is already in existence before July 2013.

Problem is, the FCC doesn’t even consider 1.5 mbps downstream as “broadband.” In 2011, the agency’s Sixth Broadband Progress Report updated the definition of broadband to “4 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.”

“This is a minimum speed generally required for using today’s video-rich broadband applications and services,” wrote the FCC at the time.

Much like similar laws passed in North and South Carolina, telecom companies like AT&T and Windstream are reportedly the ones lobbying the hardest for legislation that effectively kill public broadband. Which might be acceptable if any of these companies were actually doing anything to provide broadband service to rural areas in the foreseeable future.

We’re not saying that Americans have any sort of right to publicly built broadband networks, but if a municipality wants to build one, it should not be stopped from doing so because large telecoms may eventually, someday, maybe get around to providing the same service.

Windstream, AT&T Aim to Keep Georgia at 1.5 Mbps []
Georgia Bill Aims to Limit Investment In Internet Networks []
Bill would ban muni broadband if one home in census tract gets 1.5Mbps [arstechnica]

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