Missouri Lawmakers Sneak Municipal Broadband Restrictions Into Traffic Ticket Bill

Image courtesy of Mike Matney

The legislative process, in theory, brings us laws that have been robustly debated, discussed, compromised on, and perfected. But in reality, legislatures have this thing where lawmakers can often add completely unrelated amendments or riders to bills to accomplish, well, basically any pet goal they want. That’s what’s happened in Missouri this week, and now municipal broadband in the state is under fire from a law about… traffic tickets.

Yes, traffic tickets.

A bill that would prohibit local cops from instituting traffic ticket quotas went through the Missouri state Senate earlier this year. The Senate approved it, and that kicked it over to the state House. So far, so good; this is basically as we learned on Schoolhouse Rock.

But when it got to the house, one representative tacked on an amendment, which was approved. That amendment (PDF) is a full four-page law that strongly limits municipal broadband in the state.

Although Missouri is already one of the twenty or so states with laws blocking muni broadband on the books, several clauses in this proposal would make those restrictions even more stringent.

The text says that, “On or after August 28, 2016, no local government may offer to provide a competitive [communications] service unless” one of a few conditions are met:

  • They already offered it before Aug. 28 (grandfathered in)
  • Other service added together, including wired or mobile, reach fewer than 50% of the addresses in the jurisdiction
  • A business or government is making a request for gigabit access that all existing providers are “unwilling or unable” to provide
  • The proposed network will cost less than $1 million over its first five years
  • A majority of voters in the jurisdiction approve a measure granting the local government permission to move forward with a plan

That last one, about the voters, may actually be the least restrictive clause — as voters in 50 Colorado cities, counties, and towns have voted in the past year to overrule their own state’s similar network restrictions. Combined with the other restrictions, however, it adds up to one very limiting package for residents of the Show-Me State.

The House passed the amended measure, which now means it gets kicked back to the state Senate (or, realistically, to committees) for re-approval.

Unsurprisingly, AT&T — which really hates muni broadband — is a significant donor to Missouri lawmakers who passed through the bill.

[via Ars Technica]

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