February 22, 2021—House Republicans have introduced a bill this past week that would outlaw municipally-owned broadband networks because, they argue, they would stifle competition and harm private telecom investment.
Introduced on February 16, the bill called “Communities Overregulating Networks Need Economic Competition” (CONNECT) would allow certain existing municipal broadband infrastructure to continue to function, it would arrest any further development, and prevent additional expansion of existing networks.
It was proposed by House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. and member of the subcommittee for communications and technology Bob Latta, R-Ohio.
The bill will likely face significant resistance from House Democrats, as the party is generally opposed to regulations that would infringe on a municipality’s ability to create and operate its own broadband infrastructure.
Though House Republicans argue that the bill would increase competition and ultimately improve broadband coverage, Democrats argue that limiting a state’s ability to assist with the deployment of broadband coverage would only harm consumers and prevent them from accessing the internet during the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has a model municipal broadband network, was named best city to work from home by PC Magazine.
Michigan looks to bridge the digital divide
Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., will propose a $300 tax credit for qualified rural Michiganders to put toward securing high-speed internet.
The proposed subsidy is outlined in the Boost Act, which is expected to be introduced in Congress this week.
Like many experts, Moolenaar pointed to the pandemic as a clear indicator that Michiganders need better coverage. He stated that because students, doctors, and most every-day people are expected to do more from home, they must have more robust coverage.
LTD responds to critics on its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund award
Several telecommunications companies are emerging as critics of the process by which the Federal Communications Commission divvied out the $9.2 billion of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in December.
Some are saying that certain companies that received large pieces of the RDOF pie inflated their ability to do the work.
LTD Broadband secured almost 14 percent of the $9.2 billion allocated to RDOF, or around $1.3 billion dollars by itself.
This young company with fewer than 200 employees has ruffled some feathers by netting such a large portion of the pot. Mike Malandro, CEO of Choptank Electric Cooperative, an electric co-op that operates in Maryland, voiced his concerns to Fierce Telecom.
Because he said Choptank bid with realistic expectations for the service they were able to provide, it were essentially boxed out of the auction, he complained. He charged that other providers who inflated their abilities were awarded.
Nor is this the first time this concern has been raised. At the INCOMPAS policy summit in February, Ideatek Telcom’s Daniel Friesen and Mammoth Network’s Brian Worthen voiced many of the same concerns mentioned by Malandro: Broadband providers were winning contracts that they may not be able to fulfill.
See “Providers Increasingly Vocal in Raising Concerns About Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction,” Broadband Breakfast, February 11, 2021
While LTD Broadband is a wireless internet service provider, company CEO Corey Hauer told Light Reading that the company will provide fiber-optic services for all of the areas for which it received funds.
SpaceX also won a sizeable award, and it argued that its Starlink satellites could provide gigabit speeds to their consumers.
SpaceX won $855.5 million in total, and as a result, faced similar criticisms in Cartesian’s “Starlink RDOF Assessment,” which concluded that SpaceX would be unable to provide its consumers with robust broadband coverage under generous considerations.
See “Experts Investigating Starlink Are Not Convinced that Elon Musk’s Satellite Project Provides Rural Broadband Solution,” Broadband Breakfast, February 17, 2021