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Kan. bill would outlaw public broadband service

2/3/2014

WICHITA (AP) -- Community broadband service would be banned under a bill that will come before a Kansas Senate committee Tuesday.

WICHITA (AP) -- Community broadband service would be banned under a bill that will come before a Kansas Senate committee Tuesday.

The Wichita Eagle reported a lobbyist for the cable TV industry introduced the bill, which would prohibit cities and counties from building public broadband networks and providing Internet service to their businesses and citizens.

Commerce Committee chairwoman Julia Lynn, an Olathe Republican, said she doesn't think it's fair for government to compete with private enterprise for broadband customers because municipalities don't have to pay property or franchise taxes.

Lynn said she doesn't oppose government stepping in when private-sector broadband service is nonexistent or substandard.

"It ought to be up to the town to decide if they want the local city hall to take care of it," she told the newspaper.

However, she added, "I think that would only happen in very rare instances where there's no service."

Although the bill contains an exemption for "unserved" communities, nowhere in Kansas meets the bill's definition. According to the bill, an area is deemed served if nine out of 10 residents can get satellite Internet, which is available anywhere in the 48 contiguous United States that has a view of the southern sky. Satellite, however, generally is slower and more expensive than cable or telephone broadband.

Democratic committee member Tom Holland of Baldwin City said several small towns in his district are considering setting up their own networks or partnering with smaller providers because "they've had a heck of a time trying to provide high-speed Internet to their constituents. This (bill) would just about shut that down."

Officials in the southeast Kansas city of Chanute, population 9,100, said they're the primary target of the proposed legislation. As part of its public utility system, the city runs an ultra-high-speed broadband network that now serves schools, city buildings, the town hospital, banks and other key businesses.

On Nov. 23, the city commission voted to work toward "fiber to home," which would extend access to all residents and businesses within approximately a 3-mile radius around the city, said Larry Gates, Chanute utilities director.

"This bill is an attack on competition, an attack on municipal government," Gates said. "It takes away our local control and local decision making. It will hurt our efforts in economic development," he said.