Indiana Senate Committee approves bill to thwart municipal broadband

The new and improved version of last year’s anti-municipal broadband legislation, HB 1148, is SB 245. This year’s bill includes much of the same type of language as last year, however, SB 245 now includes telecommunications deregulation language and statewide video franchising.The new and improved version of last year’s anti-municipal broadband legislation, HB 1148, is SB 245. This year’s bill includes much of the same type of language as last year, however, SB 245 now includes telecommunications deregulation language and statewide video franchising.

SB 245 was conducted with a standing room only crowd in the Senate Chambers of the Indiana State House. After nearly 4 hours of testimony, the Senate Homeland Security, Utilities & Public Policy Committee voted 8 to 2 with a DO PASS AS AMENDED recommendation to the full State Senate with Senators Gard and Becker voting NO and Senator Delph recusing himself. This bill is on the fast track. During Indiana’s short session, SB 245 must pass the State Senate by Feb. 2nd, go on to the Indiana House and be completed by March 14th, which, is the last day for adjournment of both houses.

The hearing was kicked-off with a lengthy PowerPoint presentation of the bill by its author Sen. Brandt Hershman (R-Wheatfield). The presentation included numerous references to the recently enacted bill in Texas. Upfront Sen. Hershman proclaimed, “We are not trying to shackle cities with this.”

Following Sen. Hershman, Neil Pickett from the Governor’s office read written remarks in support of the proposed legislation.

Committee Chairman and co-author Sen. Tom Wyss (R-Fort Wayne) next took testimony in opposition to the bill. The opposition began with Bluffton Mayor Ted Ellis. Mayor Ellis is currently a board member of the National League of Cities and former chair of its committee addressing telecommunications issues. Mayor Ellis appeared extremely cautious in expressing his opposition to the bill. (Yes, there is more to this story.) Linton Mayor Tom Jones followed Mayor Ellis. Frankfort Mayor Don Stock testified next and made a veiled reference to a plea he made at a forum sponsored by Congressman Steve Buyer who is Sen. Hershman’s boss in his “other” job. Mayor Stock asked if anyone would partner with the City of Frankfort to create a municipal broadband system. Indiana AT&T/SBC President George Fleetwood came over to Mayor Stock and retorted, “We have no intent to partner with you”. A comment that the company has apparently later denied.

Not only does SB 245 hamper the efforts of cities to develop their own broadband systems but it also thwarts their efforts to joint venture with the private sector.

A representative of the City of Gary also addressed the committee, which raised the ire of Sen. Earlene Rogers (D-Gary) who is a member of the committee and a co-author of the bill. The focus here though was the statewide video franchising and redlining.

Two unexpected proponents for the bill included Tom Giovanetti, President of the Institute for Policy Innovation (http://www.ipi.org/) based in Texas as well as Randall Thompson representing FreedomWorks and their proclaimed 12,000 members in Indiana. See Dick Armey’s letter to Sen. Hershman.

The portion of the SB 245 addressing municipal broadband systems can be found in—

SECTION 57. IC 8-1-35 IS ADDED TO THE INDIANA CODE AS A NEW CHAPTER TO READ AS FOLLOWS [EFFECTIVE JULY 1, 2006]:
Chapter 35. Provision of Broadband Internet Services by Local Units

HOMELAND SECURITY, UTILITIES, & PUBLIC POLICY

* Senator Tom Wyss, Chair Senator Jim Merritt, R.M.
* Senator Allie Craycraft, R.M.M.

Regulatory Affairs Subcommittee

* Senator Brandt Hershman, Chair
* Senator Beverly Gard
* Senator Tom Wyss
* Senator Earline Rogers
* Senator Connie Sipes

Public Safety Subcommittee

* Senator Vic Heinold, Chair
* Senator Vaneta Becker
* Senator Mike Delph
* Senator Jim Merritt
* Senator Allie Craycraft
* Senator Larry Lutz

* * * * *

Posted by Laura A. Arnold (www.thearnoldgroup.biz)

Comments

  1. Christi Barber says

    You failed to mention the citizens’ organizations opposed to the bill.