MO Anti-Community Broadband Bill Stopped Again

CLIC is pleased to report that the latest battle over new restrictions on public broadband initiatives and public-private partnerships in Missouri has ended, and we have won again.   As CLIC’s president Jim Baller stated, “This was one of the most challenging fights that we’ve faced in several years.”

Last year, with CLIC’s assistance, the communities of Missouri derailed HB 437, which would have severely impaired public broadband initiatives and public-private partnerships in the state.  In January of this year, Rep. Lyndall Fraker renewed the battle by introducing HB 2078, which used different words that would have achieved the same result.

As CLIC reported in February, local opposition to the bill coalesced quickly.  The local opposition was led by Ewell Lawson, Manager of Government Relations for the Missouri Public Utility Alliance.  CLIC supported the local efforts by developing a joint letter of opposition to HB 2078 signed by several prominent companies and national trade associations, including the American Public Power Association, Atlantic Engineering Group, CLIC itself, CTC Technology and Engineering, the Fiber to the Home Council, Google, the Internet Association, the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, Netflix, Next Century Cities, OnTrac, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the Utilities Telecom Council.

Collectively, the organizations that signed CLIC’s letter represent thousands of public and private utilities of all kinds; hundreds of municipalities and counties across the nation; the fiber industry; dozens of private-sector telecommunications equipment manufacturers, systems builders, and advisers; and major high-tech companies that benefit from widespread affordable access to advanced broadband networks, including Amazon, Ebay, Etsy, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Pandora, Paypal, Reddit, Salesforce, Yahoo!, and many others.

The central message of CLIC’s letter was that local government entities in Missouri, like their counterparts across America, have a huge stake in ensuring that all Americans have prompt and affordable access to the benefits of advanced communications capabilities and that bills such as HB 2078 are bad for communities, bad for the private sector, particularly the high-tech industry, and bad for America’s global competitiveness.

Thanks to vigorous opposition of numerous communities in Missouri, and particularly to daily work at the legislature by Ewell Lawson and Google’s legislative representative Richard Brownlee, HB 2078’s rush to enactment stalled and then failed.  But then, at the last moment, Rep. Fraker attempted to graft the text of HB 2078 onto a completely unrelated bill that had passed in the Senate, SB 765, which dealt with traffic ticket quotas.  The amended bill passed the House and went back to the Senate, but the well-briefed conference committee stripped Rep. Fraker’s language out of the bill.  Proponents of HB 2078 also attempted to slide its language into HB 1912, a bill concerning county buildings.  But under threat of filibuster, the sponsor of the amendment backed off and offered his own amendment to strip out his broadband language.  The session ended on May 13, 2016, with no new restrictions on local Internet choice.

CLIC commends the Missouri Public Utility Alliance, the Missouri Municipal League, and all the communities and private-sector companies that opposed these latest attempts to deny local communities in Missouri the authority to determine their own broadband needs and strategies.  Unfortunately, we expect the battle of Missouri to resume next year.  Stay tuned …