The Kansas state legislature is currently considering a bill that would prohibit municipalities in that state from building out their own municipal broadband networks. Completely coincidentally of course we’re sure, Kansas City is home to the country’s first Google Fiber municipal network.
The bill, called the “municipal communications network and private telecommunications investment safeguards act,” has as its stated goals to:
- Ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are provided through fair competition … in order to provide the widest possible diversity of sources of information, news and entertainment to the general public
- Encourage the development and widespread use of technological advances in providing video, telecommunications and broadband services at competitive rates
- Ensure that video, telecommunications and broadband services are each provided within a consistent, comprehensive and nondiscriminatory federal, state and local government framework
To that supposed end of increased competition and innovation in the broadband marketplace, the bill (PDF) specifies:
Except with regard to unserved areas, a municipality may not, directly or indirectly:
(1) Offer to provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications or broadband service; or
(2) purchase, lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry, or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service to one or more subscribers.
The exemption for “unserved areas” isn’t much of an exemption. Rather than being for underserved areas, where competition and increased speeds would still be very welcomed, the exemption for unserved areas has a very specific and limited definition. An unserved area is “one or more contiguous census blocks within the legal boundaries of a municipality” where 9 out of 10 households don’t have access to fixed broadband, mobile broadband, or satellite broadband at the “minimum transmission speed” defined by the FCC–currently a download speed of 3 Mbps.
The proposed law would not apply retroactively to existing networks, meaning that Kansas City would be allowed to keep its Google Fiber, but that no other city in the state would be able to make the same leap.
Kansas City laid out significant incentives for Google to come hook up their city to a speedy, reliable network. Existing broadband providers like Time Warner Cable did not particularly appreciate Google’s receiving those incentives. Cable companies in general are not exactly fans of municipal networks. And yet the added competition among broadband carriers, or even the specter of it, works out well for consumers.
A law that claims to protect competition by prohibiting competitors from entering the field? That’s an interesting trick. In its very limited expansion so far, municipal fiber doesn’t seem to end competition as much as it seems to increase it.
Other states have attempted similar legislation in recent years; a bill barring municipal broadband in Georgia failed to pass in 2013.
Kansas Legislature Introduces Bill to Limit Internet Investment [Community Broadband Networks via GigaOm]