News on Ohio Senate’s Muni Network-Killing Amendment Heating Up

News outlets in Ohio have begun to pick up on something we first reported (here and here, thanks to our local allies), sounding the alarm on an Ohio Senate budget amendment that, if passed, would effectively kill municipal broadband networks and other publicly owned and operated broadband projects in the Buckeye State.

In the days following the unveiling of the budget amendment, the law firm IceMiller released an analysis of the overarching consequences if this language makes it into the final budget, outlining the problems not only for cities, but schools, port authorities, and intergovernmental agreements. The analysis suggests that not only would it discourage future investment, but also require many existing operations to cease altogether, to the detriment of Ohio residents and businesses.

‘Set Ohio Back Decades’

This past Sunday, the Akron Beacon Journal published a story on how the proposed amendment has Summit County officials concerned that it could put the region’s celebrated municipal network FairLawnGig out of business with Fairlawn Mayor William Roth saying the proposed legislation “would set Ohio back decades and make the state less attractive for businesses and economic development.”

The Beacon Journal goes on to report that both Mayor Roth and Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro are reaching out to state lawmakers and the governor's office asking that the anti-municipal network language be removed from the proposed budget and are encouraging residents to register their opposition to the amendment with their legislators as well.

‘Vigorous’ Opposition From Local Community Advocates

In conjunction with the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), FairLawnGig has issued a press release in response to the budget amendment in which Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for Fairlawn, questions the wisdom of the “misguided” proposal.

“Spending and policy should be separate,” Staten said. “We’re doing a great job as our customer satisfaction scores are through the roof at 96%. Why are legislators in Columbus telling us, or any community for that matter, we cannot fill in gaps that the private sector refuses to fill itself?”

The press release also highlights a letter CLIC sent to Ohio’s Governor and state lawmakers that was signed onto by 20 private sector companies and associations including the Fiber Broadband Association, Google Fiber, Nokia, Netflix, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance stating their opposition to the anti-competition amendment. ILSR also joined the letter.

The CLIC letter states, in part, why the group “vigorously” opposes the Senate budget proposal:

These provisions were dropped into the Senate’s proposed amendments at the last moment, with no prior notice or opportunity for debate. They would effectively kill existing and future community broadband initiatives and public/private broadband partnerships in Ohio. They would even preclude Ohio’s local governments from taking advantage of federal funding intended to help them accelerate the deployment, adoption, and use of advanced communications services and capabilities, particularly in unserved and underserved areas. These misconceived provisions would be bad for the communities involved, bad for the private sector, and bad for America’s global competitiveness. We strongly urge you to reject them.

The complete text of CLIC’s letter can be found here.

Additionally, FairLawnGig has created a dedicated page on its website to track coverage and updates on the proposed budget amendment here, which includes news of Fairlawn’s City Council voting 7-0 in favor of a resolution opposing the passage of the Senate budget amendment.  

‘State-Sanctioned Monopolies’

News5 Cleveland has labeled the Senate budget amendment “a last minute and widely-panned amendment that was snuck into the Ohio Senate's budget proposal without public discussion.”

The station goes on to report how the amendment “threatens to pull the plug on nearly three dozen municipal broadband services across the state and prevent other cities from starting their own. Opponents said the controversial budget amendment would effectively allow massive Internet service providers like Spectrum and AT&T to have state-sanctioned monopolies.”

Also, the story notes the potential impact it could have on healthcare providers. The news station spoke with Gregg Zolton, Chief Information Officer for Crystal Clinic, an orthopedic surgical hospital with several locations around Northeast Ohio. Zolton told News5 the budget amendment “is very concerning because now we'll [be forced] back into the monopolies that we had before. With the Internet speeds that I want, it is going to be more pricey. For me to be able to turn on and troubleshoot, it is going to be a lot more difficult.”

Who’s to Blame?

So which State Senator or Senators are responsible for introducing the amendment?

3News WKYC reports: “So far, no Senate Republican is taking credit for introducing the amendment in question.” This situation is extraordinary. 

And the fact that no State Senator has publicly admitted to proposing the legislation, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told 3News that he considers it “a good sign in a strange way that nobody is willing to stand up and say it’s a good idea. And when people are not willing to stand in the sunlight and advocate for their positions, then typically it’s because they’re not very good positions to advocate for."

Lt. Gov. Push Back, Optimistic Amendment Will be Dropped

2News WDTN is also reporting Lt. Gov. Husted’s opposition to the Senate budget amendment as well as the Senate’s vote to eliminate $190 million in broadband expansion grants that was included in the House budget proposal.

The Senate has argued that the money for broadband was eliminated from the budget because “there is no plan for the broadband money,” 2News reports, “but (Lt. Gov.) Husted said this is a critical time to ensure Ohioans are connected.”

“You can’t participate in the modern economy, health care, education system without it, so to the extent that you want to do that, you have to have it,” Husted said on the same day a state Senate conference committee began meeting to further discuss the budget.

Meanwhile, Cleveland.com's “The Wake Up” podcast is reporting on Husted saying “Republican efforts to block city-provided broadband is a mistake and won’t stand” and that “Husted says he’s ‘optimistic’ the efforts will be reversed in the next few weeks.”

Podcast and Fact Sheet

Speaking of podcasts, on our Community Broadband Bits podcast this week Christopher Mitchell was joined by Douglas Adams, the CMO of Think Marketing (the firm which handles the marketing operations for the municipal network FairlawnGig in Ohio), Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for the city of Fairlawn, and Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, for a discussion on the wide-ranging consequences of the Ohio Senate’s proposed budget amendment. Listen to the podcast here.

Lastly, be sure to check out a new fact sheet [pdf] we released earlier this week on all the ways Ohio's community networks have brought value to the state. 

Header image by Wikimedia Commons user JackintheBox via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International