Last week the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took two controversial votes that are likely to affect the nation’s broadband landscape for decades to come, assuming that the rules are not struck down in the courts, where they are likely to be challenged. While the so-called ‘net neutrality’ ruling had been widely publicized and spurred its own grassroots campaign to urge the Commission to approve the measure, the other far less publicized ruling is likely to have a much bigger impact on the average Internet user. In this ruling, the FCC struck down numerous statewide bans on municipally owned cable and broadband providers.
In the wake of this ruling, numerous states and municipalities are now free to move forward more aggressively on expanding broadband in areas where it was not previously possible due to broad restrictions on public ownership of broadband networks. In total, the FCC’s ruling struck down municipal bans in 19 states:
With these bans now out of the way, cities and towns are now free to provide broadband networks where the provision of high-speed service was previously considered to be cost-prohibitive by traditional telecommunications providers. States are now likely to look at new ways to provide the needed funds to spur this development, including allowing municipalities to apply for funds that were previously restricted to private broadband providers.
States will also look at more traditional ways to expand broadband funding regardless of whether it will go to public or private providers: California, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico are all considering such legislation. Bills that would establish a tax credit for businesses investing in broadband access in rural communities were introduced in New Jersey and Virginia in 2014 and will carry-over to the 2015 session.
California legislators could consider AB 57, which was introduced without specific policy language, but states the intent of the legislature to enact legislation to remove barriers to broadband infrastructure investment. Montana Rep. Kelly McCarthy, D-Billings, recently prefiled HB 14, which would allow the state to issue bonds up to $15 million in order to create a broadband development fund to be administered by the Department of Commerce. New Mexico SB 34 was introduced by Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, and would create a broadband infrastructure fund in the state treasury appropriated with $10 million annually from the state’s general fund. This account would be overseen by the state’s Department of Information Technology, who would use it to provide 50 percent matching money for federal grants to bring broadband infrastructure to rural areas in the state, including for retail customers.
Some governors have already taken action or announced plans to do so. Iowa legislators killed a proposal last year that would have improved their broadband network, but Republican Gov. Terry Brandstad is determined that a revised proposal, “Connect Every Acre,” will pass. This plan would focus on providing incentives for broadband companies to build in profitable agricultural areas, reported Omaha.com. According to The River City News, Kentucky Republican Gov. Steve Beshear announced that the state is relying on a public-private partnership to improve their broadband network. The project is expected to be completed with no cost to taxpayers and will move their service from being one of the slowest connections in the country to one of the fastest. New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to release guidelines for his $500 million broadband expansion program, “NY Broadband Fund,” which would provide grants to broadband companies offering to match funds to improve existing infrastructure, capitalnewyork.com reports. Vermont Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in December that he plans to ensure that the areas with the slowest available broadband speeds will receive priority upgrades through a program called “Connect VT.”