As reported by Christopher Mitchel from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Qwest has scored quite the little victory in its efforts to keep itself (and the good people it serves in Minnesota) from the evil socialist menace known as “local government providing broadband when the incumbent does a lousy job.”
Apparently,MN State Senator Bakk and MN State Rep Dill introduced a bill that would have made it easier to for local governments to build municipal networks. Right now, it takes a local referendum vote with 65% to authorize a locality to build a network that offers commercial telephone service (and therefore any “triple play” broadband access service — or so they read it in MN). A State Senator and State Rep offered a bill to reduce the threshold on the referendum to a simply majority. By the time the relevant jurisdictional committee was finished, the revised bill included one of the favorite incumbent roadblocks to localities: a mandatory “feasibility study” designed to be so onerous and expensive to conduct that few local governments will want to even try.
Meanwhile, the good folks of Duluth are so desperate for real broadband that they made this joke video to get citizens to show support for bringing Google Gigabit Fiber project to town.
Question for the good Senators and Representatives of Minnesota: when you've got folks clamoring for real broadband, do you really want to be “protecting” your underperforming incumbent? By “clarifying” that your referendum law applies to any indirect provision of telecom service, and imposing a five year plan on municipalities, you are making it very hard for your local governments to — in the words of Duluth's mock Public Service Announcement — “suck up even harder” than the competition. While I am hardly privy to Google's secrets and innermost workings, I am willing to bet real money that when they weigh where to set up their pilot project, they will consider any possible legal landmines. Would you want to set up shop in a city where Qwest or some other provider might sue to block your use of city assets under the amended state law? Even if Google were to ultimately prevail, it would tie up the deployment in litigation. Who wants that, when the number of communities begging for Google to come and work its fiber magic keeps growing?
Mind you, there's a good argument that even this version of the bill is better than the current law. Dropping the referendum requirement from 65% to a simple majority will do a lot of good even with the feasibility study requirement. But should that really be the choice? Don't the people of MN deserve the better bill, without throwing (yet another) bone to Qwest to reward its failure to provide what people want and need?
So folks in Duluth, and other communities in MN trying to get Google Fiber, you might want to ask Qwest's buddies in the legislature to cut y'all some slack and pass the original bill without the study requirement. that would send a signal that MN is serious about bringing broadband to its citizens and would welcome the sort of public/private partnership that Google appears to be offering. Or perhaps the MN legislature is just rooting for the people of “Google,” KS instead of the folks in Duluth.