RealTime IT News

Legislation Hypes Rural Broadband Access

States would be unable to prevent local municipalities from offering broadband to its residents under legislation introduced Wednesday in the U.S. House. The bill would also prohibit the cities from discriminating against private broadband carriers.

The Community Broadband Act of 2007 would override laws already passed by 14 states barring municipalities from competing against private sector companies providing communications services. The bill would also require that municipalities offering broadband comply with all federal telecommunications laws and encourage public-private partnerships.

"We should be doing all that we can to encourage the deployment of high-speed networks, particularly where broadband service is unavailable," bill co-sponsor Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) said in a floor statement. "If commercial broadband providers are not willing to deploy in particular areas, local governments should be able to step in and fill the gap."

Boucher noted that a broadband carrier does not serve approximately 20 percent of U.S. households and most of those potential users are in lightly populated areas. In rural areas with a single broadband carrier, prices are higher than in metropolitan areas because of a lack of competition.

"It is no surprise that building out broadband to such areas is a low priority for cable and telephone service providers, but that reality does not make broadband any less essential to the lives of unserved rural residents," Boucher said. "If the commercial broadband providers are not willing to deploy in particular areas, local governments should be able to step in and fill the gap."

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who co-sponsored the bill with Boucher, said the bill would be a boost to first responders in rural areas.

"In the wake of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma, we have seen just how critical it is to have reliability of communications systems that can be used by police, fire, and EMS departments," Upton said in a statement.

"In the future, these locally deployed technologies can help first responders, volunteers and local governments react quickly to disasters, particularly when old ways of communicating no longer work."

Similar legislation was introduced the U.S. Senate by Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). Senate co-sponsors include Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

The bills are part of an overall effort by lawmakers to increase U.S. broadband penetration rates. According to the most recent statistics released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the U.S. dropped from 12th in the world to 15th for broadband penetration.

"The nation that invented the Internet and today creates its most popular globally utilized applications can and for the sake of our national economy must do better than that," Boucher said.