On February 7th, the Virginia House of Delegates voted 72 - 24 to pass HB 2108, otherwise known as "Byron’s Bad Broadband Bill." The text of the bill was a revised version substituted by Del. Kathy Byron after Governor Terry McAuliffe, local leaders across the state, and constituents very handily let her know that they did not want the bill to move forward. The bill now moves to the Senate.
Byron’s original “Broadband Deployment Act” has been whittled down to a bill that still adheres to its main purpose - to protect the telephone companies that keep Byron comfortable with campaign cash. There is no mention of deployment in the text of the new draft, but it does dictate that information from publicly owned networks be made open so anyone, including national providers, can use it to their advantage.
According to Frank Smith, President and CEO of the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority (RVBA),
...Virginia Freedom of Information Act stipulations already codified in the Wireless Services Authority Act are sufficient and the new requirements in Byron’s bill could require the broadband authority to reveal proprietary information about its customers.
“There’s nothing hidden under the table,” Smith said. “The Wireless Services Authority Act is sufficient because you all did your job in 2003.”
The broadband authority’s rates, books and board meetings already are open to the public.
Not "Us" vs. "Them"
At a time when everything seems political, both Republicans and Democrats appreciate that this is not a political issue. The bill's new language, terrible as it is, passed through the House Labor and Commerce Committee on February 2. The vote in the committee was close - 11 supported the bill and 9 opposed it. Six Republicans opposed the bill while two Democrats supported it.
Likewise, when the bill passed in the House yesterday, Delegates voting against passage were 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats.
Better connectivity is not a partisan issue but a matter of economic development, educational opportunities, public savings, quality of life, and local control. Rural communities that have been passed over by big corporate providers understand those reasons but AT&T doesn't see it that way. To big the incumbent telephone company that wants to maintain its monopoly with slow DSL service in rural Virginia, it's about maintaining a monopoly. Once the word gets out that municipal networks offer the fast affordable, reliable connectivity that local communities need, it's only a matter of time before they lose their grip on that monopoly.
The best way to protect their position is through the Virginia General Assembly. They've been at it for years; it works in about 20 states.
Speaking Misinformation Through A Delegate
When Byron brought the new language to the House floor, she presented a speech that attacked municipal networks and used the same talking points we’ve heard over and over again. In fact, her speech was almost good enough to have been written by an AT&T lobbyist.
In the video of her presentation of the revised bill to the body (available below), she distorts the facts and relies on the same old examples from a very short list of municipal networks that have had financial problems, or are being privatized. Byron’s speech takes on the patronizing tone we so often hear from the big corporate providers as they purport to “protect the tax payers” while their true motives are to protect their monopolies. Watching the video is a good lesson in preparedness because it's straight out of the anti-muni playbook.
Christopher summed up the situation:
"Once again, we see a state legislature prioritizing the anti-competitive instincts of a few telephone companies over the need for more investment and the desire for more choices in rural communities across their state. Virginia's communities need more investment and more choices from ISPs, not new barriers crafted by powerful lobbyists in Richmond."
The bill now goes to the Senate.