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.

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