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PA Bill Provides National Exposure to Battle over Municipal Networks

The tech dailies and listservs are burning up the Internet over the recent bill signed by Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell the restricts municipal broadband networks. While this case has received plenty of publicity, it certainly is not the first shot of what is anticipated to be a comprehensive effort by the RBOCs and cable industry to halt municipal networks. (Amazing how foes can set aside their differences to rally around a common cause!)

Under an 11th hour "concession" by Verizon, Philadelphia may proceed with its' plan to build a citywide municipal, wireless network. In return, Verizon and other incumbents are granted effective veto power over municipalities' entry into broadband and other advanced services. In the meantime, the law provides incentives for encouraging incumbents to accelerate their broadband deployment to undeserved areas, with the goal of full broadband deployment by 2015. Are you willing to wait? (The U.S. Congress failed to garner much support with similar "carrot and stick" approach bills a couple years ago.)

EDUCAUSE via the Net@EDU Broadband Policy Working Group (BPG) has supported the growth of municipal/community networks. However, we need to be savvy where and how to spend our political capital and recognize other communities may be willing to compromise for short-term gains. For instance, the Pennsylvania bill provides 30% broadband discounts off the market rates to K-12 schools and other financial assistance in obtaining the equipment necessary to take advantage of high-speed connections. (One DC lawyer mused whether the K-12 community will be satisfied by the "paltry broadband" provided by DSL)

Prior to similar bills being introduced elsewhere, launching a comprehensive, preemptive education effort citing the importance of community/municipal/state networks is one option and falls within our education mission. EDUCAUSE is working closely with the BPG and StateNet Steering Committees, but we need your help! Please share your stories of how community/municipal network initiatives have made a difference in enabling your institution to serve your students and general public, while helping us identify potential "muni-network" champions in your state legislatures. Stories may be sent to Garret Sern at gsern@educause.edu.

At the upcoming Net@EDU membership meeting, the BPG and Net@EDU Wireless Campus Networking Working Groups are sponsoring a double session on community networks and how some communities are alleviating the legal hurdles.

Stories on the Pennsylvania bill and related municipal network initiatives may be found on the MuniWireless website.

 

 

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