South Carolina Bill Makes Municipality-Owned Broadband Harder

Most citizens probably think that letting a municipality or township run local broadband services would be a good idea. There's even some anecdotal evidence that having low-cost broadband in a major metropolitan city controlled by the local government keeps broadband costs down, which in turn entices businesses that use it to set up shop which leads to job creation and local commerce. But it also means that broadband companies lose out on market.

Luckily for corporations (and not so lucky for consumers) they can always use the power of lobbying to put the kibosh on competition.

In the state of South Carolina that is just what lawmakers are doing with a new bill that only requires the signature of the governor at this point. The bill passed the South Carolina General Assembly and Senate last Wednesday.

Basically the bill puts a series of roadblocks in the way of municipalities that want to run their own broadband networks.

The bill also defines broadband as being "not less than one hundred ninety kilobits per second," which – one might argue – makes it easy for ISP's to claim broadband even when they aren't delivering very good service to customers.

More importantly, the bill shows that lobbyists are very good at what they do and lawmakers at the state level are very keen to push their cause for a little campaign cash. AT&T, the state’s largest telecommunications provider, contributed thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. According to public records on campaign contributions, AT&T contributed $1,000 in 2011 to Michael Gambrell, South Carolina assembly member and lead author on the bill. Sponsors Bill Sandifer, Bobby Harrell, and other supporters also received donations from AT&T.

"States have different ways to achieve the same end—discourage, delay, or derail public broadband initiatives," wrote Jim Baller, a telecom lawyer based in Washington, DC, in an e-mail to Ars Technica. He added that similar bills have been introduced by lawmakers in Minnesota and Georgia this year, though both were stalled.

"In some ways, the South Carolina bill is worst of all because it does not grandfather existing projects and would retroactively undermine federal stimulus grants that Orangeburg and Oconee Counties have received," he added.

Source: Ars Technica

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