Telco, cable-backed Missouri bill could limit municipal broadband growth, opposition group says

A new broadband battle is brewing in Missouri as the state’s largest telcos and cable operators are backing a new bill to limit municipal broadband.

The new bill, SB 186, which was introduced by Senator Ed Emery, R-Lamar, seeks to limit the power of municipalities to provide competition to entrenched incumbent service providers.

SB 186, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, imposes restrictions on local governments to provide retail and wholesale bandwidth services.

“This legislation is trying to cut off communities at every turn by limiting any sort of ‘competitive service,’ whether it comes from public broadband infrastructure investment or a public-private partnership” said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in a statement. “Missouri should be encouraging investment and local Internet choice, not working with monopoly lobbyists to prevent it.”

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One of the particular concerns is that the bill establishes hurdles for communities attempting to conduct feasibility studies and discourages them from pursuing a chance to serve their residents, businesses, and municipal facilities, the Institute said.

The bill would also prevent a municipality from cross-subsidizing its service with other revenues if they offered the service in competition with a private provider, and would bar the use any funds unless the voters approved that use.

Today, Missouri is dominated by three main broadband players--AT&T, CenturyLink and Charter Communications. 

CenturyLink, one of the two largest telcos in Missouri, said that it would rather find a way to collaborate with local communities to expand broadband availability.  

“We believe the best approach is for municipalities to explore workable solutions with existing internet service providers,” CenturyLink said in a statement to FierceTelecom. “CenturyLink will continue to work closely with communities, local leaders and policymakers on creative public-private partnerships that bring high-speed internet services to more American homes and businesses.”

The service provider added that “if local governments choose to compete with private internet service providers, there needs to be a level playing field.”

Missouri’s proposal comes just as Virginia modified a bill that would have placed similar restrictions on the state’s municipal service providers.

The Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority and other municipal providers opposed previous versions of HB 2108, which contained several clauses designed to limit local municipal broadband services.

This article was updated on Feb. 15 with a statement from CenturyLink.