If you pay attention to state laws affecting municipal networks in Missouri, you are experiencing an unsettling feeling of deja vu right now. On January 7, Representative Lyndall Fraker introduced HB 2078, a bill much like last year's Senate anti-muni bill. Fraker is Chair of the House Utility Infrastructure Committee, where the bill is now awaiting a hearing, so it has a good chance of being heard sooner rather than later.
Your Phone Call Required!
Time to call Members of the Committee, especially if any of them represent you, and let them know that you expect them to vote against this bill. It is anti-competitive, opposed to local authority, and prevents new investment. Bad bill!
Preventing Partnerships to Maintain The Status Quo
This bill would not only make it extremely difficult for local communities to invest in publicly owned Internet networks, but would complicate and delay public-private partnerships. A number of communities across the country already own infrastructure and are exploring ways to partner with private providers who want to use it to serve schools, businesses, and residents. If a community wants to lower telecommunications costs or obtain better services, this legislation would have them first jump through a series of obscure, expensive, and cryptic hoops. This legislation creates barriers that serve no purpose except to erect hurdles that discourage local communities from finding better providers.
The requirements in HB 2078 and its companion bill SB 946 are clearly intended to limit competition - to maintain the existing de facto monopolies and duopolies within Missouri. As we have seen in places like Westminster, Rockport, and in Missouri's North Kansas City, partnerships are filling a gap in places where incumbents don't feel justified investing or communities are not ready for their own high-quality Internet networks. A key benefit to allowing partnerships is the establishment of competition in areas where there is only one provider who has no reason to work to please its subscribers.
According to HB 2078, before a community can even consider offering any type of service:
"...the competitive service is not being offered to fifty percent of the addresses by any combination of service providers within the boundaries of such city, town, or village."
In other words, existing de facto monopoly status in places where there is only one provider can be easily preserved by the Missouri State Legislature if this piece of legislation passes.
State Lawmakers Impose Their Will On Local Decisions
The bill also dictates specific criteria for feasibility reports, waiting periods, and fiscal impacts. HB 2078 directs the city on specific loan requirements, limits borrowing to $500,000, and dictates interest terms. Along with other restrictions, the bill shackles local governments to the point where investing in better infrastructure is not practical.
Give the Locals What They Want!
Once again, state lawmakers are stepping over the line when they should be stepping back from it. Missouri has existing barriers that discourage publicly owned networks and negatively impact rural communities overlooked by large corporate providers. Rather than perpetuate this harmful state of affairs, state lawmakers should look to the future, strike down the state's existing barriers, and give local communities full authority to decide their own connectivity future.