Only a few years ago, it seemed like any kind of anti-municipal broadband legislation was a slam dunk in state legislatures around the country. North Carolina’s outright ban and Utah’s continued imposition of restrictions with no purpose promoted a kind of defeatism that once the incumbents found a willing sponsor, the legislation was as good as passed.
But something has changed. In Kansas, a bill designed to sharply curtail Google Fiber got absolutely destroyed by citizen protest. Here in Utah, HB60 is being pummeled in the local and national press. Any time one of these bills comes up, the anger quickly follows, the incumbents are unmasked as the culprits, and now the bill sponsors are forced to water down the bill significantly or outright withdraw it. What happened?
Cable and phone companies have been at the rear of the pack for customer satisfaction for well over a decade. Any time we try to improve things, they shoot us down to maintain their bottom line. I think we’ve finally reached the point where so many of us are enraged at both the crappy state of Internet service and blatant protectionism in government that we’re willing to try anything to improve it. If it looks like you’re getting in our way to make a buck, you’ll kindle our wrath.
Look at what’s happened with HB60. Over a dozen national news outlets have picked up the story. Hundreds of Utahns have been contacting legislators to voice opposition. There’s no evidence of any public support for the bill at all. The bill was pulled from a committee hearing and it’s possible it may not come back this year. Swift, fierce anger ruled the day on what appears to be blatant protectionism for a power incumbent phone company.
Has the tide finally turned? I think so. And we’ll all be better for it.
The recent net neutrality ruling may have had a silver lining in making it clear that the FCC has the authority to overrule state restrictions on municipal broadband. I wonder if HB60, if it’s enacted, could be used as a test case by UTOPIA to push the FCC to use this authority. HB60 is an anti-competitive measure, and it would seem to be the kind of action that would be ripe for overturning by FCC.