Texas Telcos Want to Kill Municipal Internet Access

Better enjoy your free wireless access in Austin parks and libraries while it lasts. It might not be around much longer.

Adina Levin has noted that the omnibus telecom regulation bill (HB 789) up before the Texas legislature prohibits municipal networks. All across the country, the incumbent communication providers have been fighting for (and winning) special protections at the state level, so it's no surprise to see this in Texas.

What is a surprise is the shocking breadth of the Texas language. It wouldn't merely block the deployment of for charge municipal networks. It would force a significant rollback of current free services. Wireless access in city hall, city parks, and even city libraries will all be gone if this passes.

No internet access in city libraries??!?! Why not just ban books and magazines from the libraries while we are at it?

Here is the proposed language of the bill:

Sec. 54.202. PROHIBITED MUNICIPAL SERVICES. A municipality or municipally owned utility may not, directly or indirectly, on its own or with another entity, offer to the public:

(1) a service for which a certificate is required;

(2) a service as a network provider; or

(3) any telecommunications or information service, without regard to the technology platform used to provide the service.

The bill is sure to change in committee. Hopefully this provision will disappear entirely. The legislature should refuse anti-competitive protection for special interests.

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re: Texas Telcos Want to Kill Municipal Internet Access

For folks that want to see the full bill text with markup, I refer you here. Search for "PROHIBITED MUNICIPAL".

Note that the bill as filed originally limited a muncipality from "offer[ing] for sale to the public". Somewhere along the line the words "for sale" were struck, resulting in a blanket prohibition of all muni services, which I'm reading to include existing free services.

It's important to note that the problem isn't merely the loss of free services. The special interest prohibitions on muni networks—free or for-sale—are the problem. Adina Levin has been commenting on this. The "for sale" issue I raise simply illustrates the unmitigated greed of the Texas telcos.