Wisconsin limits local telecom fees

Wisconsin Senate Bill 272

Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle signed a bill last week prohibiting local governments from automatically charging constituents for government-owned or -controlled cable and Internet services.

Governments would be able to charge nonsubscribers for the cost of public, educational and governmental access channels, and the cost of building the infrastructure. The bill also would limit the amount that can be charged for all telecommunications services by such entities.

The Wisconsin bill is the latest attempt among several efforts nationwide to differentiate or limit the competition between government-controlled and commercial broadband services.

Local government officials in Wisconsin, particularly those in rural areas, opposed the bill, saying it hinders the deployment of broadband services in areas not being addressed by the telecom industry.

"Most major telecommunications companies are investing their resources primarily in urban markets while rural, nonurban, smaller communities are not receiving the advanced telecom services needed to sustain economic viability," states a sample resolution provided by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

But companies — including AT&T, according to the state's ethics board — committed significant lobbying time and resources to support the bill.

Among other requirements, the bill would mandate that local governments wishing to create a telecom infrastructure develop a feasibility report, detailing a full analysis of the costs and benefits of creating and owning that infrastructure. They must also hold a public hearing on the proposal.

The U.S. Supreme Court last month ruled that states have the right to prevent municipalities from deploying telecom services.

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