Today in the Maine Legislature, the Committee on Energy, Utilities and Technology voted unanimously to stop LD 1516, a bill that would restrict local telecommunications authority. After Tuesday's compelling testimony, when it was time for a Wednesday vote, LD 1516’s sponsor moved the bill be shelved.
On Tuesday, May 2nd, the Committee of Senators and Representatives met to listen to testimony on the bill. We’ve provided audio of the public hearing.
South Portland, Islesboro, the Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council, and Rockport all sent experts with knowledge about developing public projects to testify in opposition to the bill. Representatives from GWI (the ISP working with several local communities that have invested in their own Internet infrastructure), the Maine Municipal Association, and the Mayors’ Coalition also testified against LD 1516.
Communities where publicly owned fiber is already improving local connectivity provided stories of how they tried unsuccessfully to work with incumbents. Page Classon from Islesboro described how incumbent proposals could be described as, “You pay for it, we own it, we charge you what we charge everyone else.” LD 1516 requires local referendums for such investments and Classon balked at taking such a proposal to the voters.
In South Portland, the city paid for construction of its open access fiber-optic network with general fund reserves. The language in LD 1516 restricts communities to funding through revenue bonds but South Portland uses its network to offer free Wi-Fi and to improve connectivity for municipal facilities. Under LD 1516, they would not have been able to make the investment.
Rick Bates from Rockport testified that the bill would force municipalities to contend with restrictions that legacy providers will never face and how those restrictions will not solve the problem of connecting rural Maine. Bates also took the opportunity to point out that organizations such as the Taxpayer Protection Alliance relies on misinformation and incorrect data, such as their erroneous assertion that Rockport has debt for its FTTH project.