To the consumer, having a municipal broadband network in your city probably sounds like a great thing. It could get you better speeds and lower cost. To the major ISPs, that municipal broadband is more competition that means fewer customers for them. To help stave the rollout of municipal broadband networks major ISPs have taken to lobbying.
The lobbying efforts of the ISPs are working too. Twenty states now have limits placed on municipal broadband networks that were won at least in part by the lobbying efforts of the ISPs. Attorney James Baller from the Baller Herbst Law Group has been fighting attempts from major ISPs to block municipal broadband networks and has kept track of the legislations in states that restrict those municipal networks.
He notes that some of the restrictions have been in place for decades. Some restrictions were passed in 1996 after the Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed and more came in 2004. The additional restrictions in 2004 were a result of a Supreme Court decision that said the Telecommunications Act allowed states to prevent municipalities from providing telecommunications services.
Two more states could pass laws that restrict municipal broadband networks in 2014. One of those states is Kansas where a bill wants to eliminate municipal broadband except in unserved areas. However, the definition of unserved in the bill meant that municipal networks would be banned just about everywhere. Protest led to the redefining of unserved in the bill. Baller said the Kansas bill is the most extreme and its wording would bar any municipal network that isn’t for the internal needs of the municipality. He says bills like these are designed to make municipal projects as unappealing as possible or to delay public projects under the guise of creating fair competition.