[Updated, March 10]
This just popped up yesterday and it has very disturbing implications for Pennsylvanians who could benefit from some of the $7.2 billion in broadband stimulus money. It could also be the initial act in a telco national strategy to disrupt the stimulus bill’s impact in other states.
State legislators in Pennsylvania are trying to subvert the sovereignty of local governments with an incumbent-protection anti-taxpayer bill. They introduced Senate Bill 530 that will prevent local and county governments from being involved with broadband projects.
This bill pretty much spends most of its pages explaining in great detail who’s excluded and from doing what. One thing about House Bill 30 (the original PA bill that limited municipal involvement in network projects) is that local governments can ask Verizon for certain types of broadband networks, and the telco has an option to refuse to do it and let the city build it however it wants. Or Verizon has to agree, in which case they have 12 months to build that network according to spec. If they don’t do it in 12 months, the cities can build it.
This new SB 530 prohibition will be enforced regardless of whether local governments determine there is a need to partner with private entities to provide broadband to areas the large telecom and cable companies refuse to service. This bill allows incumbents to nullify the will of voters and local governments, as well as try to hog money that is supposed to help taxpayers, not further enrich companies that are the main cause of so many communities lacking broadband. The bottom line here is this proposed bill eliminates the questionably logical, but bearable HB30 option to give the incumbent right of first refusal.
This appears to be a total stealth move. People who follow broadband for a living didn’t know about this except for a fluke e-mail. Since PA has a history of legislators meeting late at night to pass bills a lot of the public might object to, I expect this is the case here.
It’s time shine the light of day on this outrage, and rally constituents to put pressure on the PA state senate. The prime sponsor is Sen Patrick Browne, a Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Originally I thought this was a possible move by the incumbents to attack the effects of the stimulus bill. However, after receiving a note from Verizon, I believe I should present their side of things while maintaining my criticism of the bill itself.
I wanted to make a couple of points in response to your post on Pennsylvania Senate Bill 530.
First, Verizon had nothing to do with the introduction of S.B. 530. The bill sponsor, State Senator Pat Browne, has introduced this legislation for the past three sessions. You should contact the senator for his views on the legislation. I repeat: It is not a Verizon bill.
Second, on House Bill 30 from 2004: That legislation has been a success – with commitments to ubiquitous broadband deployment throughout Pennsylvania and a Bona Fide Retail Request program that, to date, has accelerated broadband service to 124 communities in some of the most rural parts of the state in addition to the many hundreds of communities whose residents and businesses already have broadband.
Further, even with the municipal broadband provision of the legislation, which gave the incumbent provider the right of first refusal in providing broadband in a municipality and which actually was proposed not by Verizon but by another company, Verizon has never stood in the way of a municipality that sought to provide broadband services in Pennsylvania –nor will we.
Director-Media Relations, Mid-Atlantic/South-Central Regions
Harold Feld’s post on The Wet Machine does some more analysis of SB580.