Virginia Governor Threatens to Veto Muni Broadband Bill

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

The bill — introduced in the Virginia assembly two weeks ago — would allow for municipal buildouts but only if they target unserved areas, which it defines as those where the average broadband speed is less than 10 Mbps down and 1 Mbps up.

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

A municipality would also have to provide access to rights of way on a first-come, first-serve basis to commercial providers and could not cross-subsidize its broadband with regulated utility money.

The Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which backs municipal broadband buildouts, said the revised bill still does nothing to help connect rural Virginia, adding that while the bill would allow for buildouts, it would also offer a way for "big cable companies" to limit broadband competition in the state.

"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, have argued that the bill would ensure that the buildouts, and taxpayer dollars, are targeted to where the service is needed, rather than being used to subsidize overbuilds of existing private providers.

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.