Senate Bill Would Require Cities To Seek Private Sector Solutions First Before Offering Internet Access

A story on S.B. 313 hit Slashdot Tuesday and was sent over via the Tip Line.  The premise of the bill is that municipalities would have to solicit proposals from the private sector before offering Internet access to their citizens.  The argument of local control of tax dollars or whether or not Internet access is a human right in the 21st century (Vint Cerf, the acclaimed father of the Internet, would disagree with that notion) comes into play, but when municipalities have tried times before of offering Internet access and offering it at prices where other companies can’t compete and then subsequently folding, it seems like it might be a good idea to at least make sure that all other options have been tried.


Rogers says cities like Tifton, Marietta and Acworth have tried unsuccessfully to be public providers. He says the legislation levels the playing field for public and private broadband providers.

“The private sector is handling this exceptionally well,” Rogers said. “What they don’t need is for a governmental entity to come in and compete with them where these types of services already exist. We’re not outlawing a local government entity from doing this, but if they’re going to compete, they can play by the same rules and ask the voters if it’s okay before they go out and spend all these dollars.”

Georgia Municipal Association spokeswoman Amy Henderson said the organization has some concerns about the bill. She said the issue is one of economic development.

Rogers says cities like Tifton, Marietta and Acworth have tried unsuccessfully to be public providers, only to lose millions of dollars at taxpayer expense.

“When cities were getting involved in broadband, it was because private industry would not come there,” Henderson said. “Without that technology, they were economically disadvantaged. We feel like it is an option cities should have.”

And from GPB:

Rogers says his bill wouldn’t keep towns from offering the service.

“They can go and set up the broadband service but if they recognize it’s going to lose money they need to be very honest with the taxpayers and go to referendum and ask them if this broadband plan, which they think is so important for their community, is worth exactly what they plan to spend on it,” he said at a press conference.

Tifton officials say the city became an Internet Service Provider in 1997 because no private company would offer broadband service then. City Clerk Rona Martin said it established the service to attract businesses and help existing entities such as the local hospital, not to make a profit.

Martin said the service is now defunct but it proved its worth because now private companies offer broadband service in Tifton.

Now, for disclosure purposes, I have EPB Fiber Optic as my ISP.  EPB is a Chattanooga-based utility that services a small segment of North Georgia (I dunno how that occurred or the history behind it, but whatever) and I benefit from a municipality competing with the private sector to provide Internet access.  I will say this, EPB probably spent a lot of time, effort, and money to make sure that the market existed for fiber optics in the Chattanooga-area and seem to be doing well in terms of solvency.  They offer competitive prices that are comparable with competitors like AT&T, Comcast, and the like.  With free market forces, AT&T or another ISP would probably have come into the area and offered fiber optic.  They may still do it.  However, I believe that the premise of the bill is to ensure that municipalities don’t go out and invest big bucks of taxpayer money into a whizz-bang Internet system whether it be fiber, Wi-Max, or some other delivery system just on a whim.

Ultimately, the free market will allow broadband to reach even the more rural areas of the country (eventually Wi-Max and other 4G technologies will emerge and become pervasive).  It would seem to make more since to have a company come in and wire the community if there are either enough customers to support the costs, enough potential in the area for business growth, or a combination of both.  Currently, this bill is in committee in the state senate but has bi-partisan support.


  1. The example of Marietta is instructive. I work there – and that place (including their failed Fiber internet experiment) is a shrine to big government, on the FUBU model of course (For Us, By Us). Run by a bunch of Republicans (and probably some Democrats too) who never seem to think twice about the whole checks part but as far as I can tell rarely about the balance.

    Now, if I lived there I wouldn’t necessarily be complaining. It just puts a lot of the whining about “big government” in perspective for me.

    • Scott65 says:

      without “last mile” revenue, these projects cant succeed. This law effectively says that local communities have to give that revenue to a “private sector” (code for TWC, Comcast, or AT&T)company. Prices dont change (except go up), there is still last mile duopoly, and the local project wont succeed, and Rogers knows that. This isn’t a left/right issue. This is about freedom of people to decide locally if they want to do this…the state should leave well enough alone

  2. Max Power says:

    We have to decide policy wise if we want universal broadband access. If we do the free market has shown time and time again that it does a poor job at providing universal access while a public or a regulate monopoly does a much better job.

  3. Scott65 says:

    Please watch!

    This is a BAD bill! Local control should be just that…local. As for EPB the only reason Comcast and AT&T are competing is BECAUSE of EPB. They never would have given a rats behind about wiring Chattanooga, and it would have never attracted the thousands of jobs they’ve gained (nor the cheap price for commercial broadband which is one tenth of what it costs in Knoxville…thus taking jobs from the Knoxville area). Its easy to take it for granted when you have great broadband speeds, but many people in GA have little better than dial up and no incumbent will ever wire them for anything better. Municipal fiber projects that are forced to engage a private sector partnership fail because they cant recoup the kind of investment they would gain from “last mile” revenue which they would have to give up to the very incumbents that exist now in the government sponsored duopoly we have now! Remember, these would be GEORGIA companies, not some huge company that has little to care about what happens here. Take a good look at your cable bill (or phone bill if you have dsl) prices have gone up every year while costs have plummeted. The State needs to leave things alone. This is already starting to show up in national tech blogs that fought the same type bill in NC…and what did they get in NC? Slower speeds and higher prices…AT&T and Comcast spend huge amounts of lobbying cash to preserve their market dominance…most of Georgia doesn’t have EPB, but we should be able to create one without people who are ignorant about anything tech oriented past Facebook

  4. ricstewart says:

    Should cities seek private sector solutions first? Probably.
    Should the state tell cities that? NO.

    • Word says:

      The bill does not outlaw that a county or city can invest in a broadband network. It just requires the local city or county to put the question on the ballot for all the citizens to vote on.

      • Scott65 says:

        It makes cities ask the “private sector” first. Here’s a big clue to the ones pushing this law…it the private sector was going to wire it…they would without you “asking” them. Also, it gives incumbents the ability to tie up any plan in court for years and at great expense to communities trying to do this. Lets remember…Broadband is a duopoly at best in GA . The state propping them up is NOT a free market solution

    • Nathan says:

      “My main issue with this law is that it protects the monopoly status several of these cable companies have in many GA cities and towns by preventing local governments from competing against them.”

      I’d rather have other businesses competing with those who hold the monopoly rather than the local government.

      • Engineer says:

        I’d love to see competing businesses. Unfortunately, here in southern Georgia, the problem is when you have major cable companies that create an environment where no other businesses can get in. Meanwhile you get worse service, and increasing prices. Then of course you have those last mile customers who live out in the country and unfortunately companies don’t want to offer services to those folks because of the costs in putting in lines/cables/towers (depending on the situation).

        Normally, I’m not a big fan of the public sector getting in most things, but if no business is willing to step in and fill the void, why can’t the public sector? After all, wasn’t that the reasoning behind the Rural Utilities Service ( )?

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