A Kansas legislative hearing on a bill to prevent local communities from launching broadband initiatives has been postponed and not just because of the snowstorm bearing down on Topeka.
Senate Bill 304, which was scheduled for testimony today, has provoked a blizzard of protests and rightly so. It is anti-competitive, unfair to residents of rural areas and another frontal assault on local control.
The bill, initiated by the cable industry, aims to bar cities and counties from starting their own broadband or TV services. It would also likely stop cities from partnering with private businesses, like Google, to create broadband or TV networks.
Such moves run contrary to all the talk in the Kansas Capitol about creating jobs and encouraging a vibrant economy.
If Kansas wants to reverse the migration out of rural areas, fast Internet is essential. But the primary purpose of Senate Bill 304 is to stop local governments from building public broadband networks to make up for gaps and deficiencies in private service.
Critics also say the bill may prevent contracts such as ones that brought Google Fiber to Kansas City, Kan., and several Johnson County cities. It may be broad enough to even prevent cities and counties from leasing property, such as water towers, to telecommunications companies — resulting in a loss of revenue for local communities.
After the bill and objections to it received national attention over the weekend, Republican Sen. Julia Lynn of Olathe, who chairs the committee handling the bill, postponed the hearing “indefinitely.” She asked industry representatives to address some of the concerns.
It would be nice to think the issue won’t resurface. But the cable industry is a formidable force.
Also, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which works to carry out corporate agendas in state legislatures, is on record as opposing community-owned Internet. Many members of Kansas’ GOP-controlled Legislature are members of the council.
It’s a safe bet that cities and counties would prefer that private companies provide good service to their communities at a reasonable cost.
But in some remote areas, cable companies are balking at the cost of building a broadband infrastructure. They apparently find it cheaper to hire lobbyists to stifle the competition. That’s not right.