Assembly should finish off harmful anti-competition bill
| Staff Editorial |
Once again, forces in Topeka are acting to pin Kansas beneath common-sense standards. This time, they’ve moved against a plan that, unhindered, could eventually give millions of Kansans a big leg up for the 21st century.
In short, special interests introduced a bill that would have made it illegal for cities statewide to independently install a modern broadband Internet infrastructure or to contract with a company to do this.
That would leave such an upgrade, plainly a boon to any community, entirely at the telecom industry’s discretion. Cities like Pittsburg would be all but banned from using public resources to arrange their own broadband upgrades.
It’s quite clear where this came from: Google’s partnership with Kansas City and its suburbs to install a network called Google Fiber that will give basic broadband service to all residents for free and offer competitive pricing for state-of-the-art service.
Companies such as Cox Communications and Charter, which provide most high-speed Internet services to Southeast Kansas, are invested heavily in the status quo; broadband comes to an area according to their corporate goals and they have broad leeway in setting prices and service options.
What they’ve apparently decided to do is akin to a bar owner, fearful of a new competitor, demanding passage of a new law that bans alcohol and loud music but doesn’t affect his or her own place.
The lobbyists seem to have a low opinion of legislators’ ability for critical thought – hard to imagine where that idea came from – but they’ve been unable to avoid angering a lot of people who like competition and freedom.
“Our feeling is that this is an anti-competitive bill,” said Rep. Julie Menghini, D-Pittsburg, in an interview with The Collegio. She was referring to conversations she has had with some of her colleagues in the Kansas House of Representatives.
“This bill is an attack on competition, an attack on municipal government,” said Larry Gates, utilities director for the city of Chanute, according to The Wichita Eagle. His city has built a successful municipal broadband network of its own.
“I cannot tell you how bad this legislation would be for broadband in Kansas,” said Joshua Montgomery, owner-operator of Lawrence’s Wicked Broadband, in a Facebook post. “It will make Kansas the laughingstock of the US and will restrict competition to the lesser of ‘who cares.’”
Google, itself, joined with several regional utility companies and other businesses to publish an open letter condemning the bill.
“This bill will harm both the public and private sectors,” the letter reads, “stifle economic growth, prevent the creation or retention of thousands of jobs, hamper workforce development and diminish the quality of life in Kansas.”
Feeling the heat, the bill’s supporters have asked for the Kansas Senate to postpone its initial hearing, which had been set for Tuesday, Feb. 4, to “revise” the language.
It’s ridiculous that a private-sector lobby could push this self-interested, misguided legislation through the State Assembly at all. Any further efforts on their part should be taken with skepticism.
Ideally, legislators will take their hands off the hot stove for good.