Kansas Municipal Broadband Bill Could Limit Google Fiber Expansion

January 31, 2014 Updated: January 31, 2014

A Kansas municipal broadband bill could limit future Google Fiber expansion in Kansas City and other cities such as Salina.

The legislation was submitted to the state senate by the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association (KCTA), whose members include Comcast, Cox, Eagle Communications, and Time Warner Cable.

Although the bill was schedule for discussion on February 4, the association president told Ars Technica that the group is going to request that the scheduled hearing be postponed.

The group’s board met on Friday after several stories were published about the bill, and decided that “some tweaking of language is necessary in the bill, in particular how we are defining unserved areas,” John Federico said.

That includes rewriting a section pertaining to an exemption to the ban for ‘unserved’ areas to recognize the role of satellite TV companies, reported the Kansas City Star.

The bill currently states that cities and towns may not “Offer or provide to one or more subscribers, video, telecommunications, or broadband service” except in “unserved areas,” defined as places where 90 percent of households lack access to any broadband service, whether it be “fixed or mobile, or satellite broadband service.”

“Admittedly, that definition was overly broad,” Federico said.

He also said the cable lobby’s board members “stand firm in their belief that scarce taxpayer dollars should not be used by municipalities to directly compete with private telecom providers.”

“Scarce taxpayer dollars should not be used by municipalities to directly compete,” he said.

The bill could impact future expansion of the broadband network Google Fiber, which has been lauded as incredibly fast and is supposed to provide internet and television broadcasting in speeds of up to 100 times faster than normal. The network is a sort of pilot program that could be rolled out to the rest of the country at some point.

Federico claimed that Google never came up during board discussions and that the bill doesn’t target the company.

“Google was never mentioned one time as our board deliberated on whether to move forward with this legislation,” he said. “This bill has nothing to do with Google.”

A grandfather clause in the bill means that itwould only affect future broadband networks rather than ones that already exist.

The bill was introduced by the Republican-controlled Senate Commerce Committee on behalf of the association, and has brought criticism.

“There’s a lot of concern in governments across the state of Kansas,” said Sean Reilly, a spokesman for the city of Overland Park. He called the bill “pretty broad,” saying that “It would hurt a lot of services.”

The measure would not allow cities to “purchase, lease, construct, maintain or operate any facility for the purpose of enabling a private business or entity to offer, provide, carry or deliver video, telecommunications or broadband service to one or more subscribers.”

Reilly said that it could bar a city from allowing access to public property to improve cell towers or make agreements with telephone or cable companies that want to expand or build new networks, according to the Star. Overland Park still lacks an agreement that would bring Google Fiber — a TV and ultra-high-speed Internet service — to that city.

Google and some utility association condemned the bill in a joint letter to the committee.

“This bill will harm both the public and private sectors, stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper workforce development and diminish the quality of life in Kansas,” the letter stated.

 

Follow Zachary on Twitter: @zackstieber
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