June 2, 2005
On May 25, 2005, U.S. Representative Pete Sessions (R-Texas) proposed HR 2726, called the “Preserving Innovation in Telecom Act of 2005.” This bill would “prohibit municipal governments from offering telecommunications, information, or cable services except to remedy market failures by private enterprise to provide such services.”
It would mean that states, counties, cities, and towns looking to provide wireless (or wired) broadband services could not do so if they are anywhere within the same geographic area as a private company that has “substantially similar service.”
State and local governments that already have such service would be grandfathered in and allowed to keep their services going.
The bill is controversial for many reasons, not the least of which is that Congressman Sessions, according to his online biography, is a former employee of SBC, a telco that would potentially be in competition with municipal-run networks.
Muni-wireless networks have been controversial for the past several months, especially as the city of Philadelphia gets ready to launch its citywide Wi-Fi cloud. Groups such as the New Millenium Research Council (NMRC) have repeatedly issued reports stating that such projects would be anti-competitive and doomed to failure.
Web sites and blogs that back municipal wireless networks are not surprised by the legislation, and most view Sessions’ past ties to SBC as a sign that the telecom companies are the power behind the bill. MuniWireless.com’s Esme Vos said, “We all knew this was going to happen. The telcos are not going to sit back and let the recent deaths of anti-muni bills stop their campaign to deprive people of choice. They’ll do anything to stifle competition.”
Save Muni Wireless is a site started specifically to fight bill HB 789 in Texas , which would have prohibited muni-wireless throughout the state. The bill died in conference over the weekend on May 29. The Web site called the new bill from Rep. Sessions—who is from Dallas—”ludicriously misnamed,” suggesting that it “would give the phone company veto power over any municipal projects they don’t like.”