As the Senate version of Missouri's latest anti-muni bill, SB 266 [PDF], moved forward recently, a group of private sector companies and interested organizations appealed to state lawmakers [PDF] urging them to stop it in its tracks.
In January we reported on HB 437, introduced by House Member Rocky Miller. Its Senate companion, which establishes an identical slash and burn strategy to discourage municipal broadband investment, appears to be gathering interest.
The Senate Jobs, Economic Development and Local Government Committee heard the bill on February 18th but chose not to vote on it, reports the Columbia Tribune. Members of the committee received a copy of the correspondence.
Readers will recall that Columbia is one of the many communities that have been actively investigating the possibility of municipal open access network investment. Last fall, Columbia received the results of a feasibility study that recommended the town make better use of its existing fiber assets for economic development purposes.
The letter, sent to Senator Eric Schmitt, Chairman of the Missouri Senate Committee on Jobs, Economic Development, and Local Government, stressed the importance of public private partnerships in the modern economy. SB 266 and HB 437, with their onerous barriers, would certainly discourage private investment in Missouri. From the letter:
In particular, these bills will hurt the private sector by derailing or unnecessarily complicating and delaying public-partnerships, by interfering with the ability of private companies to make timely sales of equipment and services to public broadband providers, by denying private companies timely access to advanced networks over which they can offer business and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services, and by impairing economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.
As the letter suggests, restrictions such as those placed on local communities by these bills, do nothing but limit competition. The companies and organizations signing on to this letter understand that when local communities have the ability to make their own choices, consumers and businesses benefit:
Communities in Missouri and across America are eager to work with willing established carriers, enter into public-private partnerships with new entrants, develop their own networks, if necessary, or create other innovative means of acquiring affordable access to advanced communications capabilities. These are fundamentally local decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, through the processes that their duly elected and accountable local officials ordinarily use for making comparable decisions.
Signing the letter:
- American Public Power Association
- Atlantic Engineering Group
- Connecting for Good
- CTC Technology & Energy
- Fiber to the Home Council
- National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors
- Telecommunications Industry Association
- Utilities Telecom Council
Schaefer, who has collected generous contributions from CenturyLink and others in the telecom industry, tried to describe the bill as a tool to rein in local government. Nevertheless, his backers from CenturyLink sent their lobbyist to bemoan municipal networks a "unfair competition." As usual, the lobbyist simultaneously tried to convince lawmakers that CenturyLink was there purely in the public's interest, to protect the taxpayers from one of the "many dismal municipal failures" (head shake, eye roll).
Thankfully, the voice of reason had sent at least a few people to the hearing to debunk the typical misinformation. From the Tribune article:
In Missouri, [Ewell] Lawson, [of the Missouri Association of Municipal Utilities] said, 17 cities are offering Internet infrastructure or direct services. “There are no examples of failure in Missouri,” Lawson said. “A vote often politicizes the situation when it is not necessary.”
If you live in Missouri and hope to one day see more competition in the Internet industry, we encourage you to call your state elected officials and express your distaste for HB 437 and SB 266. Let them know that you consider these bills hostile toward meaningful competition and consider them economic development killers.
We also encourage you to arm yourself with our economic development fact sheet, that can help you provide some examples to help you prove your point.
Remember, the political process is only yours if you own it.