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Muni broadband war rages on in '06

The battle over whether municipalities can offer broadband services continues to rage in 2006, showing no signs of abatement.

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In late January, the Indiana Senate passed an amended version of a measure that had died in an Indiana House committee a year ago. It imposes significant limitations on what municipalities can do, including a requirement that they look first for private companies willing to offer broadband in their area. It also constructs administrative and legal hurdles that would make municipal broadband networks much less likely in that state.

At the same time, bills both advocating and prohibiting municipal broadband networks are still on the federal legislative docket. Sen. John Ensign's (R-Nev.) telecom reform package and Rep. Pete Sessions' (R-Texas) measure both target municipal networks, while a staff draft of a House Commerce Committee bill and a measure sponsored by Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) favor local government broadband initiatives.

The legal efforts reflect the growing interest in municipal broadband, as well as growing concern among incumbent service providers about the possibility of network competition from local governments.

Jim Baller, attorney with the Baller-Herbst Law Group and a muni-broadband proponent who has represented many cities and towns in their legal battles with incumbents, sees booming interest among cities and towns, particularly in wireless networks, which are quicker and much less expensive to install than fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) networks some municipalities are exploring. He's expecting more opposition from incumbents as a result.

“It's still early in the legislative season, so we don't know what's going to crop up,” Baller said. “There is tremendous growth in interest in municipal initiatives across the country. There was a very extensive and intensive debate last year, and that generated a great deal of information about municipal broadband.”

Meanwhile, the seemingly never-ending fight over Lafayette, La.,'s right to build a FTTP network approved by voters last July still rages. After a BellSouth court victory blocked its original bond issue plans, the parish government is now redrafting its plans.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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