Virginia Governor Threatens to Veto Broadband Bill

The Republican sponsor of a bill to put conditions on municipal broadband buildouts in Virginia has recrafted the bill after Gov. Terry McAuliffe said he would veto it, according to a group opposing the bill.

The bill—introduced in the Virginia assembly two weeks ago—allows for municipal buildouts but only targeting unserved areas, which it defines as an average speed of less than 10 Mbps download speed, 1 Mbps upload.

It also requires an independent study to identify unserved areas before any buildouts and puts conditions on overbuilding of any existing service at any speed.

The municipality must also provide access to rights of way on a first-come, first-serve basis to commercial providers and can't cross-subsidize its broadband with regulated utility money.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which backs municipal broadband buildouts, says the bill still does nothing to help connect rural Virginia. It says that while the bill allows for buildouts, it is a way for "big cable companies" to limit broadband competition in Virginia.

"The bill still gives an edge to private providers by ensuring municipal actors must share their trade secrets," said the group. "It also opens up local governments to lawsuits for perceived service issues as well as limiting private investment in Internet connectivity. These restrictions functionally ensure that it is impossible for municipal networks to develop and offer competition to the cable monopolies."

Bill backers, including ISPs, argue that it insures that the buildouts, and taxpayers dollars, are targeted to where the service is needed, rather than being used to subsidize overbuilds of existing private providers.

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

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.