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Missouri Bill Would Condition Muni Broadband Buildouts

A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 14 in the Missouri State Senate Local Government and Elections Committee on a bill that would put new conditions on municipal broadband buildouts.

The telecom-backed bill would require a feasibility study before any local government could expand broadband infrastructure and any such expansion would have to be approved by a majority of voters.

The bill would also prevent a municipality from cross-subsidizing their service with other revenues if they offered the service in competition with a private provider and could not use any funds unless the voters approved them.

In addition, any subdivision of a municipality wishing to use the service would have to pay "fair market value" and the service could not get preferential access to rights-of-way.

Any private provider or other party providing a competitive service that believes the government is violating any of those provisions can sue.

Commercial ISPs have long argued that municipalities should not be able to overbuild them with public funds, and that those overbuilds will leave, and have left, taxpayers holding the bag when and if the projects prove unsustainable.

Municipal broadband backer the Institute for Local Self-Reliance calls it another attempt by entrenched "monopoly" providers and their lobbyists to protect themselves.

"This legislation is trying to cut off communities at every turn by limiting any sort of 'competitive service,' whether it comes from public broadband infrastructure investment or a public-private partnership," said the institute's Christopher Mitchell. "Missouri should be encouraging investment and local Internet choice, not working with monopoly lobbyists to prevent it."

A Virginia bill that would have similarly conditioned municipal broadband buildouts was successfully modified this week to remove the parts most bothersome to municipal broadband backers there.

(Photo via Frankieleon's FlickrImage taken on Feb. 14, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.