Indiana bill would crimp municipal broadband

The measure would severely limit Indiana municipalities' ability to set up their own communications facilities.

Indiana lawmakers have introduced a bill that would severely limit the ability of local authorities in the state to set up their own utilities to provide residents with modern telecom facilities such as broadband Internet access.

Rep. Jack Lutz, R-Anderson, the main author of the bill, "believes the U.S. is a free market economy and that the private sector is better able to provide these services," said Matthew Symons, a spokesman for Lutz.

Meanwhile, an Intel Corp. executive told a Wireless Communications Alliance conference earlier this week that the company would work to bring municipalities and private companies together to develop wireless networks.

The idea is to foster cooperation instead of the current adversarial situation that seems to be developing, said Sean Maloney, executive vice president in charge of the company's communications group.

Frustrated by the reluctance of major service providers to bring broadband to their localities, municipal governments have looked to provide their own service using technologies such as broadband-over-powerline and wireless.

However, state governments have begun to clamp down on the practice, reportedly following heavy lobbying from major providers. One highly publicized example in the past year was Philadelphia's attempt to start its own Wi-Fi project -- almost muzzled after the Pennsylvania legislature gave telecoms the right to protest such projects if they could show they intended to provide similar service.

Philadelphia and Verizon came to an agreement that let's the city's Wi-Fi project proceed, but the Indiana bill follows the same pattern as the Pennsylvania measure. As introduced, it would prohibit a political subdivision from owning and operating its own telecommunications facilities until it goes through a lengthy process of hearings and studies to determine that no other provider could offer the service, and that the project would be cost effective.

Seventeen states have similar legislation pending.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore. He can be reached at hullite@mindspring.com.

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