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Cities and towns in Maine that want to provide their own broadband service just helped defeat a proposed law that would have made it impossible to build taxpayer-funded networks.
“The bill, introduced by Rep. Nate Wadsworth, a Hiram Republican, would impose stringent conditions that critics say would make it all but impossible for Maine towns and cities to build their own high-speed networks when cable and telephone companies decline to provide upgraded service,” the Portland Press Herald wrote Tuesday in an extensive article on the proposal.
Municipal officials and one ISP that has partnered with a city for a municipal project objected to the bill in a hearing on Tuesday. The next day, a legislative technology committee voted 12-0 against the bill, “effectively killing it,” the Press Herald wrote in a followup article. The Maine House has a 77-71 Democratic majority.full text) would have prohibited municipalities from using tax dollars to subsidize broadband service and imposed various other restrictions that would make it more difficult for cities and towns to build their own networks.
Through its purchase of Time Warner Cable, Charter is the dominant cable provider in Maine, while Fairpoint is the incumbent telephone company. Comcast also serves parts of Maine.
Death by committee
The Press Herald has plenty of quotes from the Tuesday hearing. Wadsworth argued that the bill would simply ensure that municipalities follow best practices. To say the bill “contains ‘broadband restrictions’ is akin to saying that banks shouldn’t worry about business plans when giving out business loans,” he said. But even Wadsworth apparently changed his mind after hearing from opponents, voting against his own bill on Wednesday.
“The reason we started building our own network is because the providers just didn’t have any interest in doing it out here,” Page Clason, who has helped oversee Islesboro’s deployment of a publicly financed network, said Tuesday. “This bill would prohibit smaller communities from doing this, essentially condemning them to a slow death.”
South Portland is building an open-access fiber network in partnership with GWI, a private ISP, but the project never would have happened if the Wadsworth proposal was already law, the city’s IT director said at the Tuesday hearing. GWI also testified against the bill.
Sanford, the Cranberry Islands, Rockport, and other municipalities are in the process of building their own networks, according to the Press Herald. “The business models for most existing service providers don’t allow for any adequate speed and service increases in areas where they don’t see it as commercially feasible to expand,” said Briana Warner of the Island Institute, which is providing technical assistance to 33 island and coastal communities that want faster broadband.model legislation written by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, which has pushed for restrictions on municipal broadband nationwide. About 20 states have laws imposing some limits on municipal broadband, despite a recent Federal Communications Commission effort to eliminate such restrictions. The FCC in February 2015 voted to block laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories, but the states sued and won a court ruling that reinstated the restrictions.
Given the FCC’s failure, it’s up to local communities to fight against laws that impede community broadband projects, and people in Maine showed how to wage a successful battle this week.
Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns about 13 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.