Kansas legislation to ban municipal broadband like Google Fiber, including college campuses

A fiber optic cable, like the ones used by Google Fiber and other gigabit internet service providers. (Credt: Hustvedt)

A fiber optic cable, like the ones used by Google Fiber and other gigabit internet service providers. (Credt: Hustvedt)

On campus, there’s probably easy-access Internet in every building. Maybe even high speed wi-fi. But while university-provided Internet for students is a modern day requirement for college life, it’s been slower to catch on with municipalities. As job searching becomes more and more an Internet-required task, those who have Internet from home have great advantages over those who don’t. Google Fiber and other municipal broadband services have been making an effort to close that advantage gap by offering free, low-speed Internet to consumers in specific test municipalities such as Kansas City, Kansas. But a lobbyist in Kansas has introduced broadband legislation that would ban this technology, ensuring that the current cable and Internet companies wouldn’t have to compete. Writer Cory Doctorow is among the critics of the Kansas legislation being proposed—and a decision here could impact how consumers experience broadband in the future.

What is Google Fiber?

Google Fiber is an initiative introduced by the search giant to provide Internet service through fiber-optic cables at very, very high speeds. The service package options, without including set-up fees, are varied: for a slow, 5Mbps connection, consumers would pay nothing more than the initial cost of wiring their home. (In one Google Fiber city, this is $300; in another, $30. The cost may be based on whether an infrastructure is already in place.) For the 1Gbps speed, which cable companies—and Verizon’s fiber optics network, FiOS—have not yet matched, Google Fiber runs $70 per month. Comcast’s Xfinity platform, available only in some cities, has a service at a third of that speed for almost $300 per month.

“The search giant insisted it had no intention of becoming an internet service provider. It just wanted to encourage existing ISPs, including Verizon, to run higher speed lines across the country,” Klint Finley explained in Wired in his “Why is Google Fiber the country’s only super-speed Internet?” on January 11, 2013. He also noted, “Google Fiber was supposed to be a shaming exercise. But any shame felt by the country’s big-name ISPs has yet to produce the sort of ultra-high-speed internet services we’ve all been hoping for.”

Other companies have taken on the mantle of creating cable alternatives at more reasonable prices, such as GigaBit Squared, which has partnered with the municipalities of Chicago and Seattle. The city of Los Angeles announced plans in November, 2013, to allow companies to compete to become a legalized broadband provider for the city if they could create a fiber optic network to serve residences and businesses in the city. And Google Fiber has rolled out in two cities (Kansas City in Missouri and Kansas) with plans to add service in Provo, Utah and Austin, Texas. Days after the Austin announcement, AT&T went public with plans to build their own gigabit service to the Texas city. But not all cable companies have embraced the idea of affordable Internet for all.

Kansas broadband legislation

The new legislation introduced in Kansas, potentially written by lobbyist John Federico of the Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association, would only allow municipalities to offer a broadband service to citizens if 90% of the households have no current Internet access—through fixed or mobile technology. As Cory Doctorow described in “Kansas cable lobbyist writes bill outlawing Google Fiber and municipal broadband, gets it introduced in Kansas legislature,” posted at Doctorow’s blog BoingBoing.net January 31, 2014, “The bill masquerades as a pro-competition measure (pro-competition initiatives from the cable industry! Pull the other one), but it effective prohibits measures like the wildly successful Google Fiber project in Kansas City. Given that the big carriers and cable companies have shown no interest in providing fiber or even reasonably priced, reasonably provisioned broadband in most markets, this means that most people in Kansas can kiss any hope of a read broadband life goodbye.”

As the news of the proposed legislation hit the Internet, Federico postponed the hearing initially scheduled for February 4, 2014, in order to tweak the language. “Admittedly, that definition was overly broad,” Federico said of the proposed definition of “unserved areas,” quoted by Jon Brodkin of ArsTechnica in “Cable lobby will ‘tweak’ bill banning municipal broadband in Kansas.” Brodkin also noted that Google Fiber in Kansas City, Kansas would be grandfathered in, so Kansas City residents need not fear losing their super-speedy broadband access.

Do you think municipalities should be allowed to provide an alternate Internet service for their citizens? Tell us in the comments.

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