Sen. McCain Drafts Broadband Bill

Gretchen Gallen
WASHINGTON – In an attempt to break through state barriers and enable U.S. cities to offer broadband services to residents, Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are guiding a bill through the Senate that would give municipalities the right to provide broadband services to their residents.

Under the terms of the Lautenberg and McCain-endorsed bill – titled the Community Broadband Act of 2005 – there would no longer be restrictions put on municipalities to offer broadband or advanced telecommunications services to citizens.

The bill comes at a time when recent studies indicate that the United States is lagging behind other countries as a broadband provider. Lautenberg and McCain claim that providers of traditional telecommunications services have slowed the rollout of nationwide broadband, particularly in poorer areas of the nation.

"This bill recognizes the critical role that public power systems are playing and will continue to play to ensure that no community is left behind in the electronic revolution," Joe Nipper, VP of government relations at the American Public Power Association, said in support of the bill.

The Community Broadband Act directly contradicts an effort on behalf of more than 14 states to prevent individual cities from providing high-speed access. Typically those cities either have no broadband access to begin with or the community cannot afford high-speed services offered at the state level. So far, Missouri, Texas and Arkansas have a “blanket prohibition” on providing broadband services.

The controversial bipartisan bill would also require city broadband providers to maintain the same rules and regulations that they impose on any other provider as well as comply with federal and state telecommunications laws.

"There is no valid justification for blocking local communities from offering broadband to its residents,” Lautenberg said. “If a town or a city wants to offer broadband as a tool for education and economic development, why should a state stop them?"

The Lautenberg and McCain bill is in direct opposition to another bill recently introduced by Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas) that would prevent municipalities from providing telecommunications, broadband or cable services in any area where there is a private provider.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that states could pass laws preventing their own municipalities from offering telecommunications and Internet services.

“While not every city and town will find that its interests are best served by offering advanced telecommunications, no community should be deprived of the opportunity to consider the best options for its citizenry," Nipper said.