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Lautenberg Stumps for City Broadband

State laws that ban broadband investments by local governments need to be overturned to advance the interests of people who do not have high-speed-data service or can’t afford it, Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said Tuesday.

About 14 states have imposed bans, leaving the broadband-access market to big commercial players like cable and phone companies, said Lautenberg, whose bill (S. 1294) with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) would pre-empt those state measures.

“Our bill will protect the rights of towns like Scottsburg, Ind., where businesses threatened to leave because broadband wasn’t available,” Lautenberg said at the top of Senate Commerce Committee hearing on municipal entry into the broadband-access market.

Cable and phone companies have complained that local governments that regulate and tax them have inherent advantages that can be exploited in a way that would distort the market.

“Local governments do not pay taxes,” said Douglas Boone, CEO of Premier Communications, who complained that even the threat of municipal entry enabled by Lautenberg’s bill would cause his company to think twice before investing in high-speed-data upgrades.

But Dianah Neff, chief information officer of the city of Philadelphia, said the city’s partnership with EarthLink Inc. -- an Internet-service provider with 5.3 million subscribers -- to provide wireless broadband at affordable rates citywide was a critical step to ensure that poor and low-income resident didn’t miss out on the Internet economy.

“We simply could not afford to wait any longer,” Neff testified.