On June 15, 2021, the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC) and 19 private-sector companies and associations submitted a strongly worded letter to the members of the House, Senate and Governor of Ohio, vigorously opposing a Senate amendment to House Budget Bill 110 that would effectively kill community-led local internet choice. Apparently dropped into Senate amendments to a House Omnibus budget bill without public notice or discussion, the provisions would effectively kill existing and future community broadband initiatives as well as public-private broadband partnerships. The amendment would also prevent local Ohio governments from taking advantage of historical federal funding for broadband infrastructure and access improvements.
CLIC’s joint letter, featuring many well-known public and private signatories such as Google Fiber, TING, Sifi, Consumer Reports and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, among many others, emphasized how the amendment language would not only be bad for the local communities affected, but bad for the private sector and America’s global competitiveness.
“While the harm that these proposed restrictions would do to Ohio’s communities should be obvious,” the letter reads, “the injury to the private sector may not be. In fact, the restrictions would hurt the private sector in multiple ways. They would prevent private companies from making timely sales of equipment and services to public networks. They would impede companies from using advanced public networks to offer businesses and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. They would thwart economic and educational opportunities that can contribute to a skilled workforce that would benefit existing and new businesses across the state. They would also discourage companies from entering into creative public-private partnerships that benefit all concerned.”
The letter underscores the broadband lessons of COVID: “Our nation’s experience with COVID-19 and its profound impacts on our lives have removed any reasonable doubts about the need for prompt and vigorous action by both the private and the public sectors. The Ohio legislature should reject the proposed restrictions and any other counterproductive measures that may be introduced to replace them.”
According to Ohio locals, the stealth nature of the language amendments meant many Senators did not know they voted for these anti-competitive provisions when the lengthy bill passed the Senate on June 9. On June 10, various Senate amendments to HB110, including these anti-competitive provisions, were rejected by the Ohio House of Representatives, and now the two versions of the budget bill head for conference committee.
“The proposed new restrictions in Ohio stand in sharp contrast to a new law in Arkansas that broadly expands local broadband internet options. Both houses of the conservative Arkansas legislature voted unanimously in favor of that law. Arkansas got it right,” said CLIC’s president, Jim Baller.
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